Late Tuesday night, an anonymous party sent a Deadspin reporter four videos, which appeared to be a cell phone recording of a video feed, that shows ESPN’s Rachel Nichols, host of the afternoon NBA show The Jump, in a phone conversation with an unidentified man about personnel matters at the network.
Nichols (whose face never appears on camera) and the other party to the call discuss Nichols’ career, ESPN staff, and the World Wide Leader’s decision about who will host the network’s coverage of the NBA Finals. In light of privacy concerns and our being unable to view the entirety of the conversation recorded, we have chosen not to detail the conversation or post the video of the call. Sources have told Deadspin that the entire video of Nichols’ conversation was 30 minutes long. Deadspin received about four minutes of edited footage. It is also worth noting that the videos were sent to Deadspin as an attempt to discredit Nichols’ job status within ESPN, and with the public at large, with the anonymous source texting our reporter that the videos would “expose” Nichols as a “back-stabber” and a phony ally.
Nothing in the videos Deadspin viewed show Nichols saying anything that could be construed as either a back-stabber or phony ally. Historically, casting successful women as conniving backstabbers has been a tried and true method of encouraging public condemnation of them. (See, e.g., Clinton, Hillary, and Warren, Elizabeth). You love to see the classics trotted out.
The more disturbing story, however, is that the videos appear to be that of a video feed streaming out of Nichols’ hotel room in Orlando, Fla., where she is currently ensconced in the NBA bubble. Nichols is clearly unaware the video feed set up in her room for remote filming of her show is running while she discusses internal ESPN matters. Rather than alerting Nichols that her video stream was still live or simply shutting the feed off on ESPN’s end, according to sources, an unidentified ESPN employee began to record the video feed on a phone, cut it up and disseminated it to others in the company. Deadspin is not certain whether anyone inside ESPN sent the recording of the videos to our reporter.
The integrity of ESPN’s relationship with its employees aside, both Florida and Connecticut (where ESPN’s Bristol headquarters are located), are two-party consent states with regard to recording phone conversations, meaning both parties to a conversation must agree to being recorded. Increasingly, it looks like whoever recorded this call not only violated the trust between ESPN and its talent, but may have also committed a crime.
“We are extremely disappointed about the leak of a private conversation. It’s indefensible and an intrusion on Rachel’s privacy,” ESPN said in a statement. “As for the substance of the conversation, it is not reflective of our decision-making on staffing assignments for the NBA, which has largely been driven by the circumstances of the pandemic.”
Deadspin has reached out to Nichols. We will update if we hear back from her.
This isn’t the first time a high-profile woman at ESPN has had her privacy compromised while on the job. In 2008, stalker Michael Barrett surreptitiously videotaped Erin Andrews while she undressed in Nashville, Tenn., and Milwaukee hotel rooms via the peephole in her room doors. Barrett was arrested a year later, pleaded guilty to interstate stalking, and was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison. However, the damage was already done, the video went viral, and Andrews tearfully testified about the emotional trauma she suffered as a result. Adding insult to injury, ESPN reportedly forced Andrews to speak publicly about the incident, ostensibly to quell rumors that she had orchestrated the entire event for fame and fortune, before she was allowed back on the air.
Nichols has risen from covering sports for the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel in the mid-1990s before working her way up and becoming one of the most respected voices in an industry where far too few women are heard. Nichols joined ESPN in 2004, where she covered both the NFL and NBA, including working on Monday Night Football, before leaving for CNN in 2013. Upon her return to ESPN in 2016, Nichols has been hosting The Jump, a daily discussion show centered on the NBA.