Maria Taylor is leaving ESPN following the controversy over a leaked audio recording involving colleague Rachel Nichols that roiled the NBA leading up to the finals.
Taylor’s contract with the network expired Tuesday, but ESPN had an agreement with the 34-year-old host to remain in her role anchoring the studio shows surrounding the NBA finals. Now that the Milwaukee Bucks have defeated the Phoenix Suns, both Taylor and ESPN announced they’re going separate ways.
“Maria’s remarkable success speaks directly to her abilities and work ethic. There is no doubt we will miss Maria, but we remain determined to continue to build a deep and skilled talent roster that thoroughly reflects the athletes we cover and the fans we serve,” ESPN chairman Jimmy Pitaro said in a statement. “While she chose to pursue a new opportunity, we are proud of the work we’ve done together.”
“So thankful to Jimmy and all of my great teammates and friends at the SEC Network, College GameDay, women’s and men’s college basketball, and the NBA Countdown family — the people who believed in me, encouraged me, pushed me, and lifted me up,” Taylor said. “Words are inadequate to express my boundless appreciation, and I hope to make them proud.”
Taylor is expected to join NBC Sports, according to multiple reports, where she will likely be a part of the network’s Olympics coverage, which goes into full gear Friday ahead of the opening ceremony. She also appears in a decent position to take over hosting duties on Football Night in America whenever Mike Tirico replaces Al Michaels in the Sunday Night Football booth.
Earlier this month, the New York Times published a leaked audio recording of Nichols complaining about losing her NBA Countdown hosting job to Taylor. Nichols, who is white, complained that ESPN replaced her with Taylor, who is Black, to satisfy diversity issues at the network.
After the recording surfaced, ESPN removed Nichols from her NBA finals role as sideline reporter, replacing her with Malika Andrews. Nichols has continued hosting The Jump on ESPN, where she apologized for her comments. She says she was unaware she was being recorded.
According to the New York Times, multiple Black ESPN employees said the conversation confirmed suspicions about white colleagues who speak differently in person then they do in private. NBA commissioner Adam Silver addressed the comments and the controversy at ESPN during remarks prior to Game 1 of the NBA finals.
“I would have thought that in the past year, maybe through some incredibly difficult conversations, that ESPN would have found a way to be able to work through it,” Silver told reporters. “Obviously not.”