Not Rachel Nichols.
We thought the ESPN host and reporter supported racial and gender equity outside her own interests. Instead, she joined a long list of haters who say blacks and women do not belong in sports media.
Or if we did get a job, it was because of skin tone or because we wore a skirt. If you were black or female and wrote about sports or talked about sports, chances are a person told you that you got the job because of skin color or because you wore a skirt. You didn’t really earn your job.
You are a token.
The list is long.
It includes Mike Wilbon, the late Bryan Burwell, and Drew Sharp, Rob Parker, Jemele Hill, and myself.
Let me clue you in with what is happening at ESPN. It’s a place that is so toxic for women that I’ve engaged in tearful late-night phone calls with former female employees who were sexually harassed, passed over for jobs they deserved, and could not wait to get out.
They told stories of ESPN being a modern-day animal house. Many women complain privately of walking around the offices and studios with heavy handprints on their asses and hips.
ESPN includes a diverse list of hosts and reporters. And the network should get applause for that. However, Nichols is well aware of the larger picture of exclusion in my former business. It was wrong of her to chirp up even though she thought her conversation was private.
“I wish Maria Taylor all the success in the world – she covers football, she covers basketball,” Nichols told LeBron James’ advisor Adam Mendelsohn. “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.”
One thing executives do a masterful job of is putting minorities against each other. They will throw out a small piece of cheese between two women and let them fight it out. That appears to be the case in the Nichols-Taylor dust-up.
ESPN selected Taylor to replace Nichols to host NBA Countdown. Nichols went off on an audio clip that suggested that Taylor got her old job based on gender and race, not merit. The tape leaked to the New York Times.
Employees took sides.
Some left the company in protest.
Rachel Nichols remains with ESPN for now, but I wonder if she has a bright future there. Will athletes continue to talk to her? Will ESPN continue to support her?
The sad thing is both Nichols and Taylor worked hard to earn their jobs. They do a terrific job, and no one should question their qualifications. I do not know Taylor, but I used to exchange ideas and notes with Nichols when she covered the NBA for the Washington Post.
Rachel Nichols seemed super cool and knew her stuff. That’s why her words especially hurt.
When you hear you don’t belong, you have to fight not to believe it. When I got my first sports job at the Free Press, one of the first voice mails I received told me “that I was taking a job away from a more deserving white guy.”
The guy even said my first story was “pretty good,” but there was a white guy somewhere out there more deserving. How did they know this?
Usually, when a new publication or network begins, they start with no black faces. Those who are in charge call buddies to fill positions.
Usually, those pals are white males.
When the National Sports Daily began, it hired one black female editor out of hundreds of staff. That was it. The paper said it could not find any black candidates. No. It did not seek any. We were covering the NCAA basketball tournament when discussions began about the lack of diversity in the paper.
About a dozen black sportswriters began the discussion. None even received a phone call about working there. And these were reporters from the New York Times, New York Daily News, Dallas Morning News, and Chicago Tribune.
We began to snoop around the press room and discovered a dozen white males received the opportunity to interview for jobs. One sportswriter called The Daily, and an editor told them: “We called Mike Wilbon, and he said no.”
Like that’s the only brother in sports media.
My daughter Celine heard numerous times she only got into Stanford because she was black.
Yeah, this token girl finished Stanford with a paltry 3.8-grade point average, served as class president for four years, and won so many service awards that I hope they don’t give her plaques or certificates because she won’t have room to display them in her new apartment.
It hurts to hear you are a token. It hurts to hurts to hear you don’t belong.
And most damaging, it hurts when those words come from someone you considered to be a supporter; someone like Rachel Nichols.
Follow Foster on Twitter at TerryFosterDet.