Adam Silver on ESPN's Rachel Nichols fallout: 'Careers shouldn't be erased by a single comment'

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As ESPN grapples with internal turmoil that threatens to overshadow its NBA Finals coverage, Adam Silver gave a clear endorsement of embattled reporter Rachel Nichols.

Speaking at a news conference prior to Game 1 of the NBA Finals Tuesday, Silver was asked his thoughts on the tumult that surfaced from a New York Times story surrounding leaked comments made by Nichols, who is white, regarding diversity at ESPN and her colleague Maria Taylor, who is Black.

After describing the incident as "disheartening," Silver told reporters that he doesn't believe a professional with an established track record and good reputation should have her career "erased by a single comment." Silver said that he's worked through similar issues in the NBA by "getting people in a room and working through these issues by talking a lot about them."

"They require a very labor-intensive effort ... creating a climate where people are comfortable saying what’s on their mind, where people are given the benefit of the doubt, especially long-term employees that are in good standing that when they do make comments that people recognize that people make mistakes — that careers shouldn’t be erased by a single comment," Silver said. 

"That we should be judging people by the larger context of their body of work and who they are and what we know about them."

Silver critical of ESPN's handling of the situation

According to the Times, Taylor has refused to work directly with Nichols since she heard the audio as ESPN declined to punish Nichols until the audio went public this week. Silver, who earlier in his news conference lamented the lack of representation by women in NBA coaching ranks and media that cover the league, called the conflict unfortunate. 

"It’s disheartening," Silver said. "I think it’s particularly unfortunate that two women in the industry are pitted against each other. I know that both Rachel and Maria are terrific at what they do. They work extraordinarily hard."

Silver also suggested that ESPN managed the conflict poorly.

"I think part of the problem is that when people can’t get in a room and talk through these issues — this seemingly has festered now for a full year," Silver said ... "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. Obviously not. ...

"It’s one thing to talk about the principles around diversity and inclusion. It’s something else when it comes to somebody’s specific job."

Taylor hosted ESPN's pregame show "NBA Countdown" prior to Tuesday's Game 1. But her long-term status with the network is up in the air with her contract set to expire after the Finals and the Times reporting that ESPN has made little effort toward a new deal.

Nichols, meanwhile, remains under contract. Whether her role at ESPN remains tenable amid the fallout is unclear.

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