NBA analyst Maria Taylor leaves ESPN, expected to join NBC Sports
Maria Taylor, the ESPN journalist at the center of a controversy over diversity at the Walt Disney Co.-owned unit, announced Wednesday she is leaving the company.
Taylor, 34, who has been an analyst and reporter at ESPN since 2014 and served as host of “NBA Countdown,” is expected to join NBC Sports, where she will be part of the network’s Olympics coverage.
Taylor’s departure was expected as soon as she was finished handling ESPN’s coverage of the NBA Finals, which concluded Tuesday night when the Milwaukee Bucks were crowned as the league’s new champions. She had been in contract negotiations with ESPN over the past year, and the two sides were reportedly far apart on salary as the network has been reining in the cost of on-air talent salaries.
“So thankful to [ESPN Chairman Jimmy Pitaro] and all of my great teammates and friends at the SEC Network, College GameDay, Women’s and Men’s college basketball, and the NBA Countdown family — the people who believed in me, encouraged me, pushed me, and lifted me up. Words are inadequate to express my boundless appreciation, and I hope to make them proud,” Taylor said in a statement.
Taylor, a rising star at ESPN, became the center of a damaging story about diversity inside the company after a July 6 report in the New York Times revealed a private 2020 call between the network’s NBA analyst Rachel Nichols and an associate. Nichols, who is white, was heard complaining that ESPN selected Taylor, who is Black, over her to host an NBA playoffs pregame show in 2020 because of her race.
The call was made while Nichols was working inside the “bubble” in Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla., where the NBA held its playoffs last year during the COVID-19 pandemic and picked up by a company video link in her hotel room.
Nichols, who hosts ESPN’s daily NBA program “The Jump,” was not disciplined or suspended by ESPN. But the network did remove her from the sideline coverage of this year’s NBA Finals, replacing her with Malika Andrews.
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Nichols, 47, apologized to Taylor and ESPN viewers. But the report opened ESPN to criticism of its history of handling of Black employees. “ESPN has a consistent history of undervaluing Black talent,” former ESPN host Jemele Hill told the Los Angeles Times.
Pitaro issued a statement praising Taylor and not mentioning the conflict that played out in the press.
“Maria’s remarkable success speaks directly to her abilities and work ethic,” Pitaro said. “There is no doubt we will miss Maria, but we remain determined to continue to build a deep and skilled talent roster that thoroughly reflects the athletes we cover and the fans we serve. While she chose to pursue a new opportunity, we are proud of the work we’ve done together.”
Taylor is expected to be a high-profile on-air talent at NBC Sports, where viewers will see her covering the Olympic Games in Tokyo. She could also be a part of the network’s NFL “Sunday Night Football” coverage and Amazon’s “Thursday Night Football” contests, the latter of which moves to the Prime Video streaming platform next season. NBC Sports is producing the Thursday games for Amazon.
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