ESPN and Maria Taylor, an up-and-coming on-air personality, have parted ways in the wake of an internal controversy that spilled into the public arena and drew new scrutiny of diversity policies at the Disney-owned sports-media giant.
“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,” said Jimmy Pitaro, ESPN’s chairman, in a prepared statement. “While she chose to pursue a new opportunity, we are proud of the work we’ve done together.”
Taylor’s last on-air appearance for ESPN came Tuesday night during coverage of the last game of the NBA Finals.
Her departure would seem to cap a period of inner discord at ESPN. In July of last year, basketball correspondent Rachel Nichols was caught on video speaking to representatives of LeBron James about ESPN’s decision to have Taylor host ESPN’s basketball report, “NBA Countdown,” during 2020’s NBA Finals. Her comments were recorded by a video camera she had left on and subsequently uploaded into ESPN’s system, where the footage was discovered and distributed by an employee. Nichols was frustrated that she hadn’t gotten the role, and suggested that ESPN’s interest in paying more attention to diversity was a factor in the decision. The matter boiled over after the New York Times reported that some employees who helped produce ESPN’s basketball coverage may have been choosing sides, and has drawn comments from Adam Silver, the NBA Commissioner.
Pitaro tried to put that matter to rest in a recent employee memo. “I do want to be clear on one thing: Maria Taylor was selected as ‘NBA Countdown’ host last year because she earned it,” he said. “Please know our commitment is that assignments and and opportunities at ESPN are based on merit and any concerns, remarks, or inferences that suggest otherwise have been and will continue to be addressed.”
Nichols apologized during a broadcast of her regular basketball program, “The Jump.” “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 a part of this team.
Taylor, who is rumored to be in talks with rivals including NBC Sports, said Wednesday she was “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.” She did not offer any word of any future plans.