ESPN, as a cable network, has been around for 40 years now, and much has changed since it first came over the air. Back then all of anchors were 30 year old white men – this was Pre-Michael Jordan, Serena Williams and Tiger Woods, and the majority of America’s population was white.
The early years of ESPN were the same years where Black artists couldn’t crack the playlist at MTV. Now black culture is ingrained into American pop culture.
70% of the two top sports leagues (the NFL and the NBA) are African American athletes. Black quarterbacks aren’t an anomaly anymore, and pro teams (for the most part) aren’t converting every black college quarterback into some other position anymore. Also, one of the most well paid personalities on ESPN’s air is a loud, outspoken and unapologetic black man.
In recent years many fans (let’s be honest, white fans) have stopped watching ESPN. They believe that as a network, ESPN has become too political and leans too far to the left. Honestly, they probably aren’t wrong.
But we live in very volatile political times, and when teams elect to not go to the White House because of their vehement disagreement with the occupant, that’s news, and technically, it’s sports news.
When WNBA players speak out against the co-owner of their team who was a Congresswoman, and they actively campaigned for their own boss’s opponent, that’s sports news. When your network is running BLM protest footage as promos and public service announcement.
To some it looks like ESPN is just trying to be on the right side of history, whereas to others, it looks like ESPN is taking sides. Last year, and more than ever, you heard fans (again, mostly white male fans) complain about too much politics and race being interjected into their sports coverage.
During the events that took place after the death of George Floyd, companies started looking at their diversity plans and policies. Some say that maybe corporate America may have pivoted too hard or went overboard. Someone that would agree with that might be NBA on-air personality, Rachel Nichols.
Nichols believed that after years of toiling away as the host of The Jump, which is a daily NBA program on weekday afternoons on ESPN, that she was in line to take over and do network coverage of the NBA finals as the main studio host.
ESPN had other plans. Instead, they offered Nichols a sideline reporter position for the NBA playoffs, and put Maria Taylor in the position of studio host during the network coverage of the NBA playoffs.
Nichols aired her grievances to a confidante and that conversation was captured on a hot mic. She confided that she believed Maria Taylor was given the Finals gig in 2020 as a sort of “Corporate Diversity token hire.” The hot mic footage of Nichols made its way around ESPN and recently into the pubic’s view.
Some would say that the hot mic confession came off as racist and entitled; that she was dismissing the skills and abilities of Maria Taylor, like there’s no way she could have earned that job via her skills and merit.
Now ESPN has had to take Nichols off the air to avoid anymore controversy, and she was replaced on the sidelines with another black woman, Malika Andrews. Nichols issued an apology directly to Maria Taylor and did one over the air on the jump. Maria Taylor didn’t acknowledge either apology.
There have also been reported rumors of some heated meetings at ESPN over this issue. Both Nichols and Taylor have expiring contracts.
Who will the network side with? Who will get their contract extended and is it possible for the two to ever let this be water under the bridge and work together peacefully?
According to reports, Maria Taylor has been offered a hefty raise to over 5 million dollars a year. That offer, according to reports, was turned down by Taylor who apparently is asking for Stephen A. Smith money.
Whatever happens with the contracts, let’s see how ESPN wades their way through this sticky situation and bad PR.
Will ESPN return to be a politics-free haven where people, regardless of their political persuasion, can come for a reprieve or will it continue to lean left with a heavy presence of African American taste makers and athletes?