Atkinson: The Woke Mob Got ESPN Reporter Canceled, But Who Really Wins in the End?


For those who want to work at ESPN, wokeness is a prerequisite. The company would never say that, of course, but it’s understood by anyone who watches the network.

We see it in its coverage across the board as it flaunts Black Lives Matter propaganda and demonizes fans over phantom racial slurs.

Anyone who works for the sportscasting giant undoubtedly knows it, too. That includes Rachel Nichols, a respected NBA reporter.

ESPN’s viewership has largely fallen off in recent years, probably due to the leftist attitude that alienates half of its audience. Nichols was one of the few bright spots the network had left.

And now she’s gone. Why? For committing a grave sin against the company’s woke gospel.

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In July 2020, Nichols arrived in Orlando, Florida, for the NBA playoffs. As the successful host of ESPN’s daily NBA show “The Jump,” Nichols was under the impression that she would be hosting the network’s coverage of the 2020 NBA Finals, The New York Times reported.

Instead, Nichols was told her colleague Maria Taylor would be hosting the coverage. Taylor is black, and Nichols is white.

In 2019, Taylor was given hosting duties on “NBA Countdown,” ESPN’s pregame show for its Friday and Sunday NBA coverage. She had already been a mainstay on ESPN’s “College GameDay,” a weekly college football pregame show, since 2017. Nichols, meanwhile, had hosted “The Jump” since 2016.

Nichols certainly had the right to feel that she was more qualified to host the 2020 NBA Finals coverage. Not only had she been with ESPN longer, but she had also focused her coverage on the NBA well before Taylor did.

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While it would be hard to definitively prove, there is an argument to be made that ESPN gave Taylor the job because of her skin color.

Nichols raised this concern in a private phone call from a hotel room in July 2020.

“I wish Maria Taylor all the success in the world,” Nichols told Adam Mendelsohn, an adviser to NBA superstar LeBron James, according to the Times.

“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.”

Unbeknownst to her, she had accidentally left a camera on after recording a show from the hotel room.

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This meant that video of her conversation was recorded to a server at ESPN headquarters. The Times called it “the remote pandemic version of a hot mic incident.”

The video soon began circulating and eventually reached the desk of ESPN executives. While Nichols was not immediately punished, there were consequences. For one thing, Taylor told ESPN she did not want to interact with Nichols during coverage.

Nichols continued to host “The Jump” and worked as a sideline reporter during the 2021 NBA season. But when the Times released its report on the “hot mic incident” in July, Nichols was pulled from her reporting duties for the NBA Finals.

Now, over a year after Nichols’ original comments, ESPN has canceled “The Jump” and removed her from all NBA coverage.

There are so many components of this saga to unpack, but they all center around one major theme: The woke mob will eventually come to eat its own.

First of all, Nichols herself is hardly a conservative. Her response to her comments being leaked and the resulting criticism amounts to an admission of guilt.

“My own intentions in that conversation, and the opinion of those in charge at ESPN, are not the sum of what matters here — if Maria felt the conversation was upsetting, then it was, and I was the cause of that for her,” she told the Times.

That is an incredibly leftist statement. The idea that you should have to apologize for voicing reasonable frustrations just because it hurt someone’s feelings is not one that a conservative would ever embrace.

By canceling Nichols, ESPN is not ridding itself of some far-right neo-Nazi. It is ousting a seasoned reporter who is pretty woke in her own right — just not quite woke enough for ESPN.

ESPN’s handling of the situation provides a clear example of why it continues to lose relevance in the sports media landscape. Instead of trying to improve based on legitimate criticism, it chose to run with the narrative of Nichols as the racist villain.

ESPN doesn’t want to address the possibility that Nichols’ concerns were merited. It would rather buy into identity politics and kick anyone who questions it to the curb.

In the end, the joke is really on ESPN. Taylor turned down an extension this year and moved to NBC, and Nichols, of course, has been given the boot. Two of the most successful women at the company are now gone.

In an attempt to save its coveted woke status, ESPN has likely sunk itself even deeper in a ratings hole. The network let wokeness win out, and now both it and Nichols are worse off because of it.

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Grant is a graduate of Virginia Tech with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. He has five years of writing experience with various outlets and enjoys covering politics and sports.
Grant is a graduate of Virginia Tech with a bachelor's degree in journalism. He has five years of writing experience with various outlets and enjoys covering politics and sports.