The National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) has requested a meeting with executives from the Walt Disney Corporation and ESPN while expressing “outrage” over a recent New York Times report that uncovered “a toxic ESPN culture that appears to promote bias.”
On Sunday, the Times report detailed the fallout of a leaked video in which NBA anchor Rachel Nichols was recorded saying, in reference to colleague Maria Taylor, “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.”
ESPN gave Maria Taylor hosting duties for the 2020 NBA Finals from the Disney “bubble,” a job Nichols evidently had issues relinquishing.
In a statement released Wednesday afternoon, NABJ called Nichols’ comments “disappointing” and “disparaging given the ongoing reports by Black journalists of white men advancing at ESPN because of their skin tone and not by merit.”
ESPN’s response to the Nichols matter was “even more appalling.”
“The Times has documented what appears to be an attempt by ESPN to sweep the matter under the rug until it was recently exposed in greater detail,” the NABJ statement read.
NABJ president Dorothy Tucker said the silence from ESPN leaders over the past year was “deafening” and formally requested a meeting with Disney executive chairman Bob Iger, Disney CEO Bob Chapek and ESPN chairman Jimmy Pitaro.
“The company’s actions could have alienated Taylor and left another Black employee punished for exposing the matter,” the NABJ statement said.
Kayla Johnson, a Black producer at ESPN, received a two-week suspension for sending the Nichols video to Taylor, according to the Times. She is no longer with the company.
A statement from ESPN to NABJ, via spokesperson, said: “We’re proud to lead the sports media industry in making significant progress to develop and place diverse talent on-air and in key leadership positions. Diversity, Inclusion and Equity are top priorities at ESPN. We recognize more work needs to be done, and we will continue our commitment to creating a culture that reflects our values. Our partnership with NABJ is an integral part of that commitment.”
Nichols apologized for her comments, which she made in private on a video call with longtime LeBron James adviser Adam Mendlesohn, Monday during a 30-second open of her daily NBA show, “The Jump.” But in the 4 p.m. ET time slot Tuesday, ESPN instead aired “Jalen and Jacoby,” having canceled the show, per the Washington Post. ESPN announced earlier in the day that Malika Andrews would replace Nichols as the sideline reporter during the 2021 finals between the Milwaukee Bucks and Phoenix Suns.
Follow Chris Bumbaca on Twitter @BOOMbaca.