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Rachel Nichols and ESPN are in the spotlight, but why?

In 2021, it seems opportunity has begun to take a turn in an equal direction. Many companies have started to admit their prior wrongdoings and topsy-turvy their actions in favor of those who have been slighted in the past i.e. minorities. There is none that should be more conducive to equality and fair chance than the worldwide leader in sports – ESPN. With Rachel Nichols and ESPN under the microscope, it’s important to remember what got them there.

So why are Rachel Nichols and ESPN taking heat?

Diversity, inclusion, and privilege are extremely relevant buzzwords. All the drama at ESPN recently has stemmed from an incident that took place on July 13, 2020.

At the time, Rachel Nichols had just settled into the NBA playoff bubble and was ruminating in her hotel room due to a mandatory 7-day quarantine. 

rachel nichols espn
There is a huge difference between affinity and appreciation (via Pinterest)

After she had finished her recording for “The Jump,” she made a phone call to a revered role model, Adam Mendelsohn. She expressed sentiments that were in confidence and intended to stay between her and the advisor.

Her relationship with Mendelsohn stems from him acting as a go-between from her to prominent athletes and their representatives, such as LeBron James and Rich Paul.

The only problem with their conversation was, Nichols forgot to kill the power on a newly approved piece of recording equipment ushered in during the pandemic. 

A classic hot mic scenario

From there, the device streamed footage of Nichols’ conversation into the workflow stations of several different ESPN employees. Rather than inform Rachel of the fact that she forgot to disable the new piece of technology – an individual secretly recorded and disseminated the conversation throughout the company. 

“I wish Maria Taylor all the success in the world — she covers football, she covers basketball. 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.”

Rachel Nichols on the call, via Deadline

Now, all the talk surrounding race has led to finger-pointing, assignment replacements, and public apologies. Much of the negative impetus is being placed on Rachel Nichols and while she partially deserves it – she is not the only one at fault here.

ESPN does not exactly have a clean record in terms of equality and accountability. And Mendelsohn and his comments have elicited scorn as well.

adam mendelsohn
Adam Mendelsohn – advisor to LeBron James (via More Than a Vote)

Rachel Nichols remains in hot water and some may argue this is by design. Overall, the part that really makes her guilty is the laugh after Mendelsohn’s comment. The type of laugh is particularly cringe-worthy and naturally demoralizing.

“I’m exhausted. Between Me Too and Black Lives Matter, I got nothing left.”

(Mendelsohn comment that commanded laughter from Nichols)

This entire debacle could be a strong-armed move by ESPN

Clearly, Rachel is in the wrong as are many parties throughout this whole scenario.

The reason some might argue this entire saga is by design is because it is a classic zero-sum game. Pitting successful women against each other as one poses as the backstabber is a wonderful way to drive public condemnation.

Of course, ESPN claims that these incidents have no bearing on the company’s actions or reactions. Maria Taylor and Malika Andrews have replaced Nichols at the NBA Finals, while Nichols will still host “The Jump.”

rachel nichols espn equality
Rachel Nichols earned her spot in the industry (via ESPN)

Nichols has been criticized, rightfully, for seemingly being an ally to BIPOC communities when it is convenient, but not doing so when it is inconvenient, like when she feels it is affecting her career.

ESPN has taken criticism because the company has shown a glaring lack of equality over the years. Black people at ESPN have complained for years about the lack of equality with their white counterparts and facing discrimination.

And of course, Mendelsohn has taken heat too. His comments show a truth many of us know but refuse to admit: Comments by so-called “allies” behind closed doors are much different than comments in public.

“Equality” is easy to strive for in the public eye, but what about in public spheres, where the real decisions are made?

ESPN, Rachel Nichols, and many more “allies” have a lot to learn

While many different viewpoints were offered throughout this piece: let this final statement ring clear. Beware of the outwardly supportive white people who tell a different tale when they believe no one is listening.

Their face-value existence has shrouded our country since the times when police officers threw on KKK hoods to destroy the Greenwood District (Tulsa) of Black Wall Street.

Not everyone is like you – and certainly, money is the motivating factor for the majority. Seek the friendship of those who can express true sentiments without fear of recourse. Because the ones that put on a front to appease you may truly feel the complete opposite behind the scenes.