Rachel Nichols talks about ESPN exit after joining Showtime

Rachel Nichols has spoken publicly for the first time to tell her side of the story about her exit from ESPN.

Nichols exited the network last year in the wake of a leaked audio recording in which she was heard complaining about being asked to give up a job hosting the NBA Finals to Maria Taylor, blaming an emphasis on diversity for the move.

After announcing she would be joining Showtime, Nichols appeared on the “All the Smoke” podcast with Stephen Jackson and Matt Barnes on Friday.

“I thought we had put some things behind us and unfortunately there were still some people who had bad feelings and held on to this tape for a year,” Nichols said, saying the tape was investigated by HR and she wasn’t disciplined. “Just kept it in their pocket. And when there was a point they wanted some leverage with their own situations they fed it to the press.”

Rachel Nichols on Showtime's "All the Smoke" podcast with Matt Barnes and Stephen Jackson
Rachel Nichols on Showtime’s “All the Smoke” podcast with Matt Barnes and Stephen Jackson
Maria Taylor
Maria Taylor
Getty Images

Nichols said that in 2019, she was given a contract that included hosting the NBA Finals. The next year, she was asked to step aside in that role for Taylor amid the protests following George Floyd’s murder. Taylor is black, and Nichols felt ESPN was trying to solve its diversity problem by asking a woman to step aside instead of a man.

“Do you think ESPN would ever say to [College Gameday host] Rece Davis, ‘Hey, we want to give Maria this opportunity, you go be the sideline reporter?’ ” Nichols said. “They don’t say that to men.”

After the tape was published last year, Nichols was taken off NBA Finals coverage. Taylor later moved to NBC.

Nichols said she inadvertently left the camera running in her hotel room during the 2020 NBA bubble, and another ESPN employee recorded video of her using a cell phone, later spreading it around the company.

“I feel sorry that any of that touched Maria Taylor,” Nichols said. “She’s a fellow woman in the business. It’s not her fault what was going on.”