NBA player LeBron James and former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in Los Angeles, California.
Chelsea Lauren | FilmMagic | Getty Images
Longtime white advisor to black NBA superstar LeBron James was caught on tape telling an ESPN white reporter, “I’m exhausted. I have nothing left between Me Too and Black Lives Matter, ”revealed a report on Sunday.
Communications expert Adam Mendelsohn’s outspoken comments – referring to catchphrases used for the movements aimed at reducing sexual violence against women and police murders and brutality against blacks – came during a taped phone call he made last summer with the NBA Reporter Rachel. from ESPN had Nichols, the New York Times reported.
Mendelsohn apologized for these specific comments in an email to CNBC after being asked about them on Sunday.
Nichols, who is white, had complained to Mendelsohn during that July 2020 call about a black reporter, Maria Taylor, getting the pre-game NBA final hosting spot from her sports cable TV network had, a spot Nichols expected her to, The Times reported.
Nichols on this tape implied that Taylor received this gig to the detriment of Nichols because Taylor is black – and because ESPN was under pressure to have more racial diversity in its lineup of on-air talent.
In his initial comments on the Black Lives Matter and Me Too statements, Mendelsohn told CNBC, “I made a stupid, negligent comment rooted in privilege and I am truly sorry.”
“I shouldn’t have said it or even thought it,” Mendelsohn said in an email.
“I am working to support these movements and I know that the people affected by these problems are never exhausted or left with nothing. I must continue to review my privilege and work to be a better ally.”
Nichols apparently did not know that the conversation was being recorded by a video camera broadcasting images and audio from her hotel room at a resort in Walt Disney World, Florida. Walt Disney Company is the majority owner of ESPN.
The video from the camera she used to appear on the network’s shows was fed into ESPN’s control room in Bristol, Connecticut. A tape of the call later circulated within ESPN and was leaked.
Mendelsohn has been an advisor to James for over ten years. Last year he co-founded James’ Black Vote Promotion Group More Than A Vote and is a senior advisor to the group.
The More Than a Vote website notes that the group was launched “amid the protests against Black Lives Matter following the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. Our goal: energy, education and protection of black voters. “
Taylor joined More Than a Vote last summer and recorded videos as a member of the group supporting the group’s efforts.
Mendelsohn is also a Senior Advisor at the private equity firm TPG, where he previously worked as Managing Director for Global Communications. Previously, he was Deputy Chief of Staff to then California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
The Times reported that the video of the call lasted more than 20 minutes, with “continuous talk”. The newspaper only put two audio snippets online, which together last 2 minutes and 47 seconds.
Anthony Davis # 3 of the Los Angeles Lakers, LeBron James # 23 of the Los Angeles Lakers and Quinn Cook # 28 of the Los Angeles Lakers kneel down during the National Anthem with VOTE shirts before the start of the game against the Denver Nuggets in Game Three of the Western Conference Finals during the 2020 NBA Playoffs at the AdventHealth Arena at the ESPN Wide World Of Sports Complex on September 22, 2020 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.
Mike Ehrmann | Getty Images Sports | Getty Images
The Times article stated that “many employees were outraged when they saw the video” because they believed that Nichols “reflected a common criticism used by white workers in many workplaces of non-white colleagues Denigrate – that Taylor was only offered the job of hosting because of her race, not because she was the best person for the job. “
And The Times reported that ESPN staff had also said Nichols made Taylor’s job difficult because Taylor had to deal with Mendelsohn to get interviews with people in professional basketball.
Read more about CNBC’s political coverage:
Last May, The Times reported, the stars of ESPN’s “NBA Countdown” discussed whether they would refuse to appear in protest against changes to production they believed were made in Nichols’s favor .
These changes included Nichols becoming the game’s main reporter, which in turn resulted in three colored side reporters being given fewer tasks.
The bomb report comes weeks before Taylor’s contract with ESPN expires.
The New York Post reported last week that Taylor turned down a contract proposal last year that would have increased her current annual salary from $ 1 million to nearly $ 5 million a year. Taylor reportedly held out after significantly more money.
The Post also reported that ESPN’s current offering to Taylor is valued at $ 2-3 million per year. The lower amount reflects a move by the network to cut salaries across the board, according to The Post.
Nichols called Mendelsohn on July 13, 2020 to request an interview with James and another Lakers player, Anthony Davis, who is another client of James’ agent, Rich Paul. Mendelsohn is also an adviser to Black Paul.
Nichols also took the time on the same call to ask Mendelsohn’s advice on how to deal with the situation at ESPN, and was denied the assignment, which went to Taylor.
“I wish Maria Taylor all the success in the world – she reports on football, she reports on basketball,” said Nichols during the phone call with Mendelsohn, whose audio was posted online by The Times.
“If you have to give her more to do because you are feeling pressure because of your shitty long-term record in terms of diversity – which, by the way, I know personally from the female side – then just do it. Just find it somewhere else. You won’t find it from me or take my thing away. “
She also noted that the assignment to moderate coverage of the NBA finals “is written in my contract,” the newspaper reported.
After Nichols said she was planning to wait for ESPN’s next move, Mendelsohn paused, then said, “I don’t know. I am exhausted. I have nothing left between Me Too and Black Lives Matter. “
Nichols laughed at that, as the tape reveals.
Mendelsohn then suggested to Nichols that the situation be so that ESPN played two women, Nichols and Taylor, against each other.
“About the fact that it is just so very white men that they turn two women against each other to compete for the one point that they dangle over them,” said Mendelsohn.
“A broader discussion of all the points that should be considered.”
Nichols then said on the tape, “There’s not just one place at the table for a minority of the version we’re trying to try this week.”
Mendelsohn replied, “If you think about it, this is exactly the problem we’ve been talking about for a long time, which is white men – it’s an example of the one black person on the boardroom … you don’t? Not having a black woman in a prominent position and feeling, OK, all the work is done. “
“And you certainly can’t say, ‘Okay, we have a white woman, we have a woman in a critical place, and now that we’re going to put a black woman in the same place,” he said.
“The question is, what other seats do white men sit in?”
The Times reported that he told the paper for its article, “I will share what I believed then and what I still believe to be true. Maria [Taylor] earned and earned the position, and Rachel [Nichols] must respect it. “
“Maria deserved it because of her job, and ESPN realized that, like many people and companies in America, she needs to change on purpose,” said Mendelsohn.
“Just because Maria got the job doesn’t mean Rachel shouldn’t get what she deserves. Rachel and Maria shouldn’t be forced into a zero-sum game by ESPN, and Rachel had to challenge them. “
The Times reported that Mendelsohn did not answer follow-up questions about the taped call.
In his statement to CNBC, Mendelsohn said, “I’ll reiterate what I believe advised Rachel on the call and told the Times. Maria deserved and deserved the position and Rachel had to respect her. If Rachel wanted to challenge ESPN, she needed” to focus on their overall culture. “
ESPN has declined to say if an employee has been disciplined in connection with the case.
The Times reported that the only known person known to have been punished was a black digital video producer who was suspended for two weeks without pay after telling ESPN Human Resources that they were sending the video to Taylor had sent.
Josh Krulewitz, spokesman for ESPN, declined to speak to CNBC, but cited statements he had given the Times for its article.
“A diverse group of executives thoroughly and fairly examined all facts related to the incident and then handled the situation appropriately,” said Krulewitz.
“We pride ourselves on the coverage we continue to produce and our focus will continue to be on Maria, Rachel and the rest of the talented team that collectively serve NBA fans.”
Krulewitz also told the newspaper that ESPN emphasizes diversity, inclusion and equity, and that the company “arguably has the most diverse talented professionals in the sports media business, including those behind the scenes”.