ESPN, the sports cable network division of Walt Disney Co (NYSE: DIS) has announced that broadcaster Maria Taylor is leaving the network in the aftermath of a controversy regarding racially-tinged comments made by her colleague, Rachel Nichols.
What Happened: In a joint press statement issued on Wednesday, ESPN said that “after much discussion, an agreement on a contract extension could not be reached. As a result, Maria’s last assignment for ESPN was last night’s NBA Finals telecast.”
The statement including a comment from Taylor thanking her colleagues and “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.”
The statement also included a comment from Jimmy Pitaro, ESPN chairman, who said Taylor “chose to pursue a new opportunity” and added the network’s executives “remain determined to continue to build a deep and skilled talent roster that thoroughly reflects the athletes we cover and the fans we serve.”
The New York Post had reported ESPN offered Taylor a new contract for $3 million per year, up from her current $1 million annual salary, and that she has been fielding offers from other networks.
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Why It Happened: Taylor’s departure was sparked by a news report of a leaked video where Nichols, who is white, suggested Taylor was given her former assignment of ESPN’s pregame and postgame coverage of the 2020 NBA Finals because Taylor is Black.
“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. “Just find it somewhere else. You are not going to find it from me or taking my thing away.”
Kayla Johnson, a Black producer at ESPN, was identified as leaking the video and received a two-week suspension from her job; she has since left the company.
Nichols was removed from the network’s NBA Finals sidelines coverage and offered an on-air apology on her show “The Jump,” but was not reprimanded and remains with the network. As of this writing, she has not publicly commented on Taylor’s departure.
Photo: Maria Taylor, photographed by Cmilien86 / Wikimedia Commons.
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