Rachel Nichols made her first appearance on Showtime since joining the network, and she immediately addressed what happened at ESPN.
Nichols and ESPN parted ways last year after comments surfaced of her criticizing the network’s diversity history. Nichols had been reassigned to sideline reporter in favor of Maria Taylor as NBA Finals host in 2020.
“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,” Nichols said to Adam Mendelsohn, an advisor to athletes including LeBron James, in 2020, according to the New York Times. “Just find it somewhere else.”
Not long after that report, Taylor left ESPN for NBC where she currently hosts Football Night in America.
While appearing on the All The Smoke show with Stephen Jackson and Matt Barnes, Nichols explained her side of the story. She said, in wake of a different New York Times article that questioned ESPN’s diversity opportunities, the network asked her to take a sideline reporter role so they could promote Taylor.
Nichols explained that when she first arrived in the NBA’s bubble in 2020, she was using new equipment and wasn’t aware she didn’t turn off her line that connected her to ESPN’s headquarters in Bristol.
“At least one person decided to just sit and watch, and started spying on me like I was their own personal TV show,” she said. “When they heard something they thought was juicy they picked up their phone and started recording my conversation.”
Then, she went into the context of the quote in which she questioned Taylor replacing her as the NBA Finals host. Nichols says that the NBA Finals hosting role was included in her contract with the company.
“This was a conversation between me and a friend, we talked about a lot of different things,” she said, “He brought up the article that had been in the paper about the lack of opportunities for people of color at ESPN, and we started talking about how my situation may intersect with some of the race and gender history of a network that is well-documented and complicated.”
Nichols claims she praised Taylor, calling her “incredibly talented” and wishing her “all the success in the world” during the same conversation. She also criticized ESPN’s handling of trying to promote diversity in the way that they did, saying that they wouldn’t ask Rece Davis to move off of College GameDay hosting duties to become a college football sideline reporter.
“I have fought through a lot of things in this business to get to where I am,” she said. “To me, it felt like, ‘Hey, if you have a problem, if it is this article, if it is something else, whatever it is, why are you coming to the two women here to solve it?’”
When ESPN first heard those comments, Nichols said the network’s HR department investigated it and didn’t find any wrongdoing, which led to Nichols getting a new contract with a raise and Taylor getting promoted further. She thought the situation was over until the report came out last summer.
“I think there were still some people who had bad feelings and they held on to this tape for a year,” she said, “When there was a point that they wanted some leverage with their own situations, they fed it to the press.”
Nichols said she still feels remorse toward Taylor, even after she apologized on TV and tried to reach out behind the scenes.
“I feel very sorry that any of this touched Maria Taylor,” she said. “It wasn’t her fault what was going on, I wasn’t talking about her actions. To even bring her into it, that was a mistake on my part and if it caused her to be upset in any way, that stinks. I don’t want to be that person.”