“We believe this is the best decision for all concerned in order to keep the focus on the NBA Finals,” ESPN said in a statement.
But Tuesday afternoon, “The Jump” did not air in its usual 4 p.m. time slot. A person with knowledge of the show said it was off the air after backlash to Nichols hosting it Monday, though it was expected to be back Wednesday.
On Sunday, the Times published a leaked recording of Nichols from last summer. It was from a private phone call that Nichols didn’t know was being recorded, and she is heard suggesting that the promotion of Taylor, who is Black, to replace her as host of the NBA Finals pregame show was because ESPN was “feeling pressure” on diversity.
“I wish Maria Taylor all the success in the world — she covers football, she covers basketball,” Nichols said on the recording. “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. You are not going to find it from me or taking my thing away.”
Nichols was speaking to Adam Mendelsohn, an adviser to LeBron James, and looking to set up an interview with James, according to the Times. She sought Mendelsohn’s advice for her own situation, believing that ESPN was taking away a contractual guarantee in the wake of a national racial reckoning after George Floyd’s murder.
Nichols was on the air Monday afternoon as host of “The Jump” and issued a brief apology for her comments on the tape.
“So 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,” she 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.”
She was joined by two former NBA players, Kendrick Perkins and Richard Jefferson, both of whom are Black.
“You have treated me with the utmost respect and you always made me feel comfortable in your presence. I know your heart,” Perkins said. “I also know Maria Taylor. Great person as well. Very, very talented and hard-working. I feel like she also deserves every opportunity that is presented her way.”
Added Jefferson: “Rachel and our entire group have had some very difficult conversations over this time period. Those conversations don’t end here. We will continue to have uncomfortable conversations.”
Late Monday, Perkins appeared on the audio app Spaces to defend his appearance and comments on the show after they were criticized by some online.
“At the end of the day, I can’t go out there and go off and go crazy and risk losing my job because some people want me to go on there and speak for how they feel,” Perkins said.