What you’re about to read will give you context and details about the story of the day, and one of the biggest stories of the past year in sports media. It will also shed light on a lot of the variables that have made this thing go viral. Because while you think you know what’s going on, I guarantee you that you don’t.
On the morning of July 4, 2021, The New York Times dropped a bombshell of a story detailing Rachel Nichols’ complaints about Maria Taylor, “diversity,” and how she and Adam Mendelsohn — LeBron James’ longtime advisor — laughed about “being exhausted” due to the #MeToo Movement and Black Lives Matter.
Think about that for a second. A privileged white woman, who covers a Black league, laughed when a privileged white man, who interacts with powerful Black men daily, ran out of energy because women of all colors are tired of being sexually harassed and assaulted while Black people are fed up with being target practice for the police. Yet Mendelsohn thinks he’s the “exhausted” one. And Nichols thinks there’s something funny about that. The audacity some white people have behind closed doors is always mind-blowing… and expected.
But, back to the story.
Over the last 24 hours, nothing has mattered in the sports media world besides this story. Go check Twitter, it’s still trending. People have a lot to say. Some of it is really good conversation, where Black people and people of color are pulling back the curtain on ESPN and explaining how it really feels to work for the corporate giant. However, there’s also a lot of misinformation, lazy assertions, and a ton of people tweeting who have no idea what’s actually going on.
But I do.
So grab a seat and a drink, because I’m about to tell you how this all went down.
On July 14, 2020, at 7:36 p.m. CST, I received anonymous texts from an unknown number with a 202 area code from a person who refused to identify themself. The texts began with four grainy video clips. They were recordings of a computer screen in which the only thing visible was a chair in a hotel room. The audio was of a woman on a phone call. That woman was Rachel Nichols, and she was talking to Adam Mendelsohn.
Below are the four one-minute clips sent to Deadspin a year ago:
Originally, the unidentified person told me that “we have met and share several mutual friends.” They then began to detail how Nichols has a “well-known history of undermining and backstabbing fellow employees in order to steal their positions and/or opportunities.” In layman’s terms, Nichols acts as if she cares about Black people and diversity in front of the camera, while everything she does in private proves otherwise.
The four video clips I received were each about a minute long, giving us access to only four minutes of a much longer conversation.
“I wish Maria Taylor all the success in the world — she covers football, she covers basketball,” Nichols said in July 2020. “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.”
That quote is from the Times story. But, it’s also part of the audio that I received. So while I had background on what I thought might be going on, I didn’t have any actual proof. But, let me be clear. Nichols names Taylor in the clip and was mad about her getting a hosting job that she wanted. In the clip, Nichols is “venting.” But while the information I was given by the “source” was some potential context to what was going on in the video, there was so much more that I didn’t have access to. I knew Nichols was being shady — I just didn’t know how shady it got, as I only had access to only a small portion of a longer conversation.
So, I alerted my editors at Deadspin and on July 15, 2020, we published this story: “ESPN Creep Used ‘The Jump’ Video Feed To Secretly Record Rachel Nichols in Her Hotel Room — Video Got Sent to Us.”
We had no idea how the video was recorded or how ESPN’s equipment was set up. We couldn’t tell whether Nichols had been hacked or if her comments were caught on a hot mic. According to the Times, Kayla Johnson, a digital video producer at the time, was the one who sent the video to Taylor. Johnson — a Black woman — was the only person to be punished, as she was suspended for two weeks without pay, and then reportedly given less desirable tasks at work. She does not work for ESPN anymore, as many Black employees in front of and behind the camera have left over the last year due to frustrations with the company. Myself and others at Deadspin were unaware of Johnson or her situation. We simply did the best with what we had — which at the time felt like a violation of privacy more than anything, because despite what we may have thought or knew, this was all that we could prove.
We had a huge story that we knew was layered. We knew that there was more. We tried to get the full video and more info., but sources went silent. Besides, I wasn’t going to write a column about Nichols being on some bullsh*t when it came to Taylor, without knowing exactly what the bullsh*t was, and how much bullsh*t was exactly there.
But, then the plot twisted.
On July 16, 2020, at 8:51 am CST, I received more texts from the anonymous number with the 202 area code that originally sent me the video clips two days earlier. But this time, their tone, energy, and language was different. They thanked us for writing the “PERFECT article.” And when I asked more questions trying to get them to reveal themselves, they backtracked and said “we’ve never met,” which is not how they originally introduced the conversation.
Were we played? Did we get Manti Teo’d?
I don’t know.
We’ll probably never know who sent the video clips to me, why they sent them, or if it was more than one person. But, what I do know is that during that week we had a staff meeting where we discussed what happened and I said, “I just wish I had the rest of that video.” Well, thanks to the good folks over at the Times, we all now know what was said during the rest of that conversation – as the quotes in that story from Nichols about Taylor confirmed what I expected and somewhat knew, but could never prove.
The Times did a wonderful job of getting 16 more minutes of the video that we wanted and never got. They also broke down some of the things that have happened at ESPN since we ran our story last summer.
However, if you’ve been paying attention to how ESPN deals with their Black employees this shouldn’t be at all surprising. There’s a long list of former Black employees that have left the company over the years due to their eternal bullsh*t. I’ve written about the subject matter multiple times. It’s why the powers that be over there have banned me from appearing on any of their television shows since 2018. So, when you find out the only person to be punished in this situation was a Black woman, it’s pretty on-brand for that company.
Everything cool about the “Worldwide Leader” that is ESPN is because the Black people that have worked there over the years have made it that way. And while there is no other sports network that employs and highlights as many Black people and other folks of color on their airwaves, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the company values them. Because if you didn’t know, it is possible to have the best “diversity numbers” in the business while also being sh*tty to your diverse employees.
Lastly, as this story continues to unfold, Deadspin and myself will keep covering it. We never actually went away from it in the first place, we just didn’t have the information we needed at the time. Oh, and if you didn’t already know, I will continue to stand with and support Maria Taylor, as I’ve always done.