In 2014, Rachel Nichols was the anointed badass of sports media.
After the horrifying video surfaced of Ravens wide receiver Ray Rice brutally punching his then-girlfriend inside an Atlantic City elevator, the NFL was forced to publicly reckon with the league’s domestic violence issue.
Commissioner Roger Goodell, however, was forced to reckon with Nichols.
During a press conference in New York City, the then-CNN reporter held his feet to the fire, challenging him on the league’s balance of power and the hiring of Robert Mueller to conduct an investigation due to his ties to the league. More importantly, she questioned his claim that the NFL tried to obtain the elevator video, which the city’s prosecutors essentially denied had been formally requested.
“Nothing is personal between Roger Goodell and me,” she later told the Wrap. “I actually think he is smart and interesting, but there are questions you have to ask. The NFL has to understand that fans want to know the answers to things like how they handle the domestic abuse issue.”
In 2016, she was lured back to ESPN, where she remained a prominent face hosting “The Jump” and handling numerous other NBA assignments.
But then the 47-year-old touched a third rail in a particularly fraught time in our culture: race.
Last week, ESPN unceremoniously cancelled her show and dropped her from any NBA coverage, essentially cutting ties with the once-lionized reporter.
“Got to create a whole show and spend five years hanging out with some of my favorite people talking about one my favorite things. An eternal thank you to our amazing producers & crew – The Jump was never built to last forever but it sure was fun. More to come…” she wrote on Twitter.
The offense that led to her demise and a firestorm within ESPN? Nichols was on a call complaining to LeBron James’ advisor Adam Mendelsohn that ESPN took her contractual position hosting the NBA Finals and gave it to Maria Taylor, who is black, to make up for their “crappy longtime record” on diversity.
The conversation took place inside her Disney World hotel room as she was covering the 2020 NBA playoffs during the pandemic bubble. It was caught on the network’s camera, which was transmitted to their Connecticut offices and recorded on a cellphone by an employee, who showed it to colleagues, according to the New York Times.
It was also arguably illegally recorded.
Given that both Connecticut and Florida are two-party consent states, meaning both people have to agree to being recorded, experts have said Nichols has a strong legal case against ESPN.
“In my opinion, ESPN doesn’t have a leg to stand on,” Matt Netti, an attorney in the office of the general counsel at Northeastern University and contributor to sports legal site Conduct Detrimental, told The Post. “I should hope for their own sake that they reached a settlement with her and paid her a lot of money.”
He called the taping a violation of the two-party consent laws, adding, “Even if it was a one-party state, it seemed like neither Nichols nor Mendelsohn knew they were being recorded. More than likely this video was captured illegally and distributed.”
Netti said she could have a case with violation of privacy. “She had a right to feel secure and that this conversation was private,” he said. ESPN is also guilty of a “standard breach of contract,” he added, since they took her off her assignment in the first place.
ESPN declined to comment and a rep for Nichols did not return a call from The Post.
Though the video did not surface until a year later, the public fallout and her subsequent fall from grace was quite swift.
After the story broke, Nichols apologized to Taylor, who was in the midst of contract negotiations and landed at NBC Sports in late July. But the damage was done. Many saw her remarks as racially insensitive.
Within the cutthroat industry, Nichols was known for her sharp elbows and ultra-competitive bent toward landing high-profile interviews. Her approach rubbed some co-workers the wrong way, with ESPN reporter Adrian Wojnarowski calling Nichols a “bad teammate.” But it was that same ambition and confidence that propelled Nichols to the top of a male-dominated field.
As she told “The espnW,” which fawningly interviewed her in 2016 about her new role at the network, “There’s a point where you have to decide what’s more important to me. Is it more important to me what I think of what I am doing or what the guys around me think of what I am doing? And when you decide that it’s important what you think, that is first of all very freeing and it’s also a north star… I trust my instincts.”
It seems she’s always had an internal career compass. Nichols was raised in Potomac, Maryland, where her father was an attorney and her mother worked for the National Institute of Mental Health. She played soccer as a kid and began honing her passion for journalism in her tween years.
“I knew pretty early. I was on the school paper back in junior high and never really stopped,” she told Midwest Sports Fans.
“From the beginning, sports seemed like the best gig to me. As a kid, the idea that people got paid to follow sports for a living seemed like getting paid to go to recess. Actually, as an adult, I still think that sometimes.”
She graduated from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism in 1995, landing her first sports writing gig at the Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel. She went on to cover the Capitals at the Washington Post and began appearing on local newscasts and caught the eye of ESPN suits.
In 2004, she was hired by the “worldwide leader in sports,” becoming a fixture on its NFL and NBA coverage. ln 2013, she jumped ship to CNN to host “Unguarded,” where she interviewed athletes such as Derek Jeter, LeBron James and Floyd Mayweather, whom she pressed on his domestic violence history.
While her career was built on uncovering the human side of athletes, the married mother is much more discreet about her private life, rarely giving any insight into her own family.
In 2001, she married music executive Max Nichols, the son of the late Mike Nichols who directed “The Graduate.” He is also the stepson of news legend Diane Sawyer. The pair met as teenagers at a summer camp in Maine and reconnected as adults. They have 10-year-old twin daughters.
It’s unclear where she goes from here. But she does have one very powerful ally in her corner: NBA commissioner Adam Silver, who seemed to recognize that her achievements are extensive, trailblazing and once set an industry standard.
“Careers shouldn’t be erased by a single comment,” he said in the aftermath of the tape leak, adding, “We should be judging people by the larger context of their body of work and who they are.”
Christine founded Sports Grind Entertainment with an aim to bring relevant and unaltered Sports news to the general public with a specific view point for each story catered by the team. She is a proficient journalist who holds a reputable portfolio with proficiency in content analysis and research.