“Maria’s remarkable success speaks directly to her abilities and work ethic,” ESPN Chairman Jimmy Pitaro said in a statement. “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.”
Taylor, according to the release, said: “So thankful to Jimmy 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, 34, spent eight years at ESPN, where she became a leading voice on the network’s college football coverage, including hosting “College GameDay.” She also was a visible presence on women’s college basketball coverage, the NFL draft and the NBA, where she hosted “NBA Countdown,” the pregame and halftime show for the NBA Finals, which ended Tuesday. According to two industry sources, Taylor is likely to join NBC, where she could contribute to coverage of “Sunday Night Football” and potentially the Olympics.
Taylor’s exit from ESPN comes after the New York Times published an audio recording of Nichols, another NBA host, questioning whether Taylor received her promotion to host NBA Finals coverage because ESPN was trying to improve its record on diversity. Nichols believed the job was contractually hers, according to the recording, which was over a year old when it was leaked and was made without Nichols’s knowledge.
The audio was published as Taylor’s contract was nearing its end, and ESPN’s handling of the situation drew rebukes from NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and the National Association of Black Journalists.
Nichols was removed from her sideline reporting duties during the NBA Finals and apologized on air to Taylor for her comments during her afternoon show, “The Jump.” Nichols’s status at the network remains in question, and without Taylor, ESPN will have to retool its NBA studio coverage, as well as its college football broadcast team.
Taylor’s contract expired Tuesday, when the Milwaukee Bucks hosted the Phoenix Suns for Game 6 of the NBA Finals. There was some concern over how the network might cover the end of the series, but Taylor and ESPN executives reached an agreement to have her finish the series.
Pitaro sent an email to ESPN employees last week in which he wrote, “Maria Taylor was selected as NBA Countdown host last year because she earned it.” He also touted several diversity initiatives at the company and announced plans for a future town hall to discuss the issue.