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ESPN Reporter Rachel Nichols Has Been Removed After Her Phone Conversation Leak

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The Phoenix Suns beat the Milwaukee Bucks last night in the first game of the NBA Finals, but the spotlight is being pulled from those who play basketball to those who talk about basketball due to a scandal brewing at ESPN. The network replaced sideline reporter Rachel Nichols, who's white, after comments she made came to light about her African American colleague Maria Taylor.

NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman joins us. Hey, Tom.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Hi, Mary Louise.

KELLY: OK. So let's start with what happened here. What happened with Rachel Nichols?

GOLDMAN: Well, last summer during the NBA's bubble in Florida, she was having a phone conversation with someone in her hotel room after finding out she wouldn't be getting the host job for ESPN's marquee program "NBA Countdown" during the NBA Finals. And she suggested the woman who was getting the job, Maria Taylor, who's African American, as you mentioned, got it because of her race.

KELLY: Oh. And we know exactly what she said 'cause it turns out there was a hot mic on in her hotel room.

GOLDMAN: Yes. Always be aware of the hot mic.

KELLY: Yeah.

GOLDMAN: And it recorded her saying this - and I'm quoting - "I wish Maria Taylor all the success in the world. She covers football; she covers basketball." And Nichols continues, "If you need to give her more things to do because you are feeling pressure about your crappy longtime record on diversity, which, by the way, I know personally from the female side of it, go for it. Just find it somewhere else. You are not going to find it from me or taking my thing away." Now, also in the phone conversation, the person Nichols was talking to, a white male, said this - "I'm exhausted. Between #MeToo and Black Lives Matter, I got nothing left." And Nichols laughed.

Now, Mary Louise, this all has become a scandal now because part of the tape recently leaked. The New York Times had the full story this past weekend, and it blew up, of course, on social media. ESPN announced it was replacing Nichols as a sideline reporter during these finals games with Malika Andrews, who's African American. But the network said Nichols would (inaudible) hosting her NBA show "The Jump."

KELLY: And what is Nichols saying now about all this?

GOLDMAN: Well, she apologized on "The Jump," and here is a bit of what she said.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE JUMP")

RACHEL NICHOLS: But I also don't want to let this moment pass without saying how much I respect, how much I value our colleagues here at ESPN, how deeply, deeply sorry I am for disappointing those I hurt, particularly Maria Taylor.

KELLY: I'm thinking, Tom, this is all coming during the finals. The NBA wants everybody to focus on the basketball, on the game, especially after this, you know, really tough season during the pandemic. What is the NBA saying about all this?

GOLDMAN: Well, yesterday in his pre-finals press conference, Commissioner Adam Silver said it's disheartening, and he echoed what many have said - it's unfortunate two women are being pitted against each other here when having competent female broadcasters in such a male-dominated world as the NBA, that should be celebrated. He also raised the question - delicately because the NBA and ESPN are partners - about why the network has taken so long to deal with this issue since this was known about at ESPN headquarters soon after it happened a year ago. Here's Commissioner Silver.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

ADAM SILVER: I would have thought that in the past year, maybe through some incredibly difficult conversations, that ESPN would have found a way to be able to work through it - obviously not.

KELLY: Speaking of incredibly difficult conversations, Tom, do we know if those are happening inside ESPN?

GOLDMAN: They reportedly have, and those conversations have been sometimes heated, sometimes acrimonious. The New York Times article quotes Maria Taylor as saying about ESPN, "being a front-facing Black woman at this company has taken its toll physically and mentally." The network, through a spokesman, said ESPN emphasizes diversity, inclusion and equity. But, you know, this is a story that resonates beyond one open mic in ESPN. All aspects of society, obviously, are dealing with diversity and inclusion, rightfully so. One hopes Nichols' words are being talked about in discussions everywhere.

KELLY: That is NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman. Thank you, Tom.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF TORTOISE'S "TEN-DAY INTERVAL") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.