The National Association of Black Journalists has called for a meeting with leaders at Disney and demand change over a "toxic ESPN culture that appears to promote bias," the release said.
The request comes in the wake of the The New York Times' report published Sunday about a conversation ESPN host Rachel Nichols had with media and athlete adviser Adam Mendelsohn in July 2020. In the recorded conversation, Nichols vented her frustration regarding Maria Taylor, who is Black. Nichols said Taylor continues to get favorable NBA coverage because of ESPN's "crappy longtime record on diversity," including being assigned to host ESPN's coverage of the Finals—an assignment Nichols was expecting.
“I wish Maria Taylor all the success in the world—she covers football, she covers basketball,” Nichols said in the audio obtained by the Times. “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—like, go for it. Just find it somewhere else."
Friction between Nichols and Taylor began once Taylor was made aware of the recorded conversation. The video was recorded by Nichols's own camera that she had accidentally left on. The entire recording was being sent to a server at ESPN headquarters where multiple ESPN employees recorded the conversation using their phones.
Nichols apologized to Taylor on her show, The Jump, on Monday.
“The first thing they teach you in journalism school is don’t be the story, and I don’t plan to break that rule today or distract from a fantastic Finals,” Nichols said. “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, and how grateful I am to be part of this outstanding team.”
ESPN later announced that Nichols would not serve as a sideline reporter for the NBA Finals and would be replaced by Malika Andrews. She will continue to host The Jump, however.
The report from the Times also revealed that the only known person who was punished for the entire situation was Kayla Johnson, a digital video producer, who is Black, and told ESPN human resources that she had sent the video to Taylor.
Johnson was suspended two weeks without pay and given less desirable tasks at work when she returned. She is no longer an ESPN employee.
"Nichols’ comments and the actions that followed over the last year were not only disappointing but disparaging given the ongoing reports by Black journalists of white men advancing at ESPN because of their skin tone and not by merit," the NABJ release said. "ESPN’s response to the matter was even more appalling, as the Times has documented what appears to be an attempt by ESPN to sweep the matter under the rug until it was recently exposed in greater detail. The company’s actions could have alienated Taylor and left another Black employee punished for exposing the matter."
NABJ's leadership also was specific with the individuals they want held accountable as well.
“The NABJ Board of Directors is disturbed to learn the details of this situation and what appeared to be a lack of accountability and a desire by ESPN to provide accommodations for a white employee who mocked diversity and a well-qualified co-worker while seemingly ignoring how Taylor and others who later heard the conversation may have been affected,” NABJ president Dorothy Tucker said. “The silence and apparent inaction by ESPN leaders over the last year is deafening and, as a result, NABJ is requesting a meeting with Bob Iger, executive chairman at The Walt Disney Company, which owns ESPN; Bob Chapek, CEO of The Walt Disney Company; and Jimmy Pitaro, chairman of ESPN.”
ESPN responded to NABJ but did not address Nichols's behavior directly.
"We’re proud to lead the sports media industry in making significant progress to develop and place diverse talent on-air and in key leadership positions,” an ESPN spokesperson said, per the release. “Diversity, inclusion and equity are top priorities at ESPN. We recognize more work needs to be done, and we will continue our commitment to creating a culture that reflects our values. Our partnership with NABJ is an integral part of that commitment.”
No deadline was presented and ESPN has yet to address the call for a meeting.
"NABJ looks forward to meeting with top leaders at the company to present our concerns, demand answers and change at ESPN."