Over the years, a number of journalists have walked through the doors of ESPN and managed to leave indelible impressions on the longtime sports network. So it can sometimes be surprising when an analyst leaves. However, this most recent departure may not be as surprising given recent events. Sports analyst Maria Taylor, and the network itself, formally confirmed that she is leaving ESPN. This move comes after an inner-company conflict involving co-worker Rachel Nichols. And interestingly enough, Nichols is not mentioned in any of the recent statements that were released.
NBA Countdown alum Maria Taylor’s departure from ESPN follows her coverage of the recently-concluded NBA Finals. After the controversy with Rachel Nichols became public knowledge, many theorized that she would not re-up with the network as her contract prepared to expire this summer. In a statement (via TVLine), Taylor opted not to mention Nichols or the situation directly but instead thanked ESPN chairman Jimmy Pitaro and her colleagues for the experience:
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. Words are inadequate to express my boundless appreciation, and I hope to make them proud.
Maria Taylor’s contract expired this week and, as of this writing, her next gig has not been confirmed. However, reports currently indicate that she is in talks to potentially join up with NBC Sports. Jimmy Pitaro offered his own sentiments on Taylor’s career move and, through his statement, he wished the high-profile TV personality well in her new endeavors:
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. While she chose to pursue a new opportunity, we are proud of the work we’ve done together.
ESPN made headlines when comments made by Rachel Nichols last year became public earlier this month. Nichols was reportedly under the impression that she would be covering this year’s NBA Finals, but Maria Taylor was ultimately tapped for the job, positioning Nichols as sideline reporter for the post-season series. The New York Times recently released audio from a July 2020 conversation between Nichols and an advisor to LeBron James, which neither knew was being recorded. During the discussion, Nichols, who is white, insinuated that Taylor, who is Black, was only receiving additional opportunities due to her race.
After the audio was released, Rachel Nichols issued an apology on The Jump, shortly before the beginning of the NBA Finals. She would, however, ultimately be removed from her post as sideline reporter.
Maria Taylor began her career with ESPN in 2013 when she started working as a sideline reporter for ESPN2’s college football telecasts on Saturdays. She eventually moved over to the ESPN-owned SEC Network in 2014 and eventually joined College GameDay in 2017. By 2019, she became a host on NBA Countdown.
It’ll be interesting to see where Maria Taylor winds up next. But what seems very clear is that she has experience that would make her attractive to just about any major sports network.