Maria Taylor and ESPN part ways after leaked audio controversy

Maria Taylor is leaving ESPN after both parties failed to reach an agreement on a contract extension, Taylor and the network announced Wednesday. The announcement comes weeks after leaked comments from reporter Rachel Nichols, who made disparaging remarks about Taylor.

“So thankful to (ESPN Chairman Jimmy Pitaro) 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.”

▶ Watch Video: ESPN reporter pulled from NBA Finals coverage after controversy

The NBA Finals broadcast on Tuesday evening was Taylor’s last assignment with the network, the announcement said. The 34-year-old host spent seven years with the network.

Earlier this month, ESPN benched Nichols from reporting on the sideline of this year’s NBA Finals matchup between the Milwaukee Bucks and Phoenix Suns. In the leaked recording, Nichols, who is White, criticized ESPN for choosing Taylor to report on the sidelines of last year’s championship series.

“If you need to give her more things to do because you’re feeling pressure about your crappy longtime record on diversity — which, by the way, I myself know personally — like, go for it, just find it somewhere else,” the recording said, The New York Times reported.

Nichols later apologized for her comments on-air. The announcement Wednesday did not mention the controversy.

In the announcement, Pitaro said the network was proud of Taylor for the work they’ve accomplished. “Maria’s remarkable success speaks directly to her abilities and work ethic,” Pitaro said. “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.”

The National Association of Black Journalists on Wednesday said Pitaro has agreed to meet with the organization in August to discuss challenges the network faces. “Our members who either work at ESPN or formerly worked at ESPN are sharing with us deeply troubling stories of their experience there,” NABJ President Dorothy Tucker said in a statement Wednesday.

“We are obviously disturbed by what we are hearing and are eager to meet with ESPN to assist them in long-overdue changes that will lead to a positive work environment for Black journalists and media professionals.”