Why Maria Taylor Really Left Her Hosting Gig At ESPN

Prolific sports journalist Maria Taylor left ESPN in 2021 after nearly a decade with the network, but her final days with the sports channel were anything but drama-free. 

Taylor ascended to the ranks of sports broadcasting quite fast. After a successful career playing college ball at the University of Georgia, she transitioned into working as a reporter for the SEC Network. She got the opportunity to be on the sidelines of various events for college volleyball, football, and basketball games, proving that she's an all-around talent. "The big thing for me is I've always wanted to be versatile in the same way that as an athlete, you know, you don't want to be pigeonholed into one thing," she told Insider in an interview.

In 2019, she became the host of "NBA Countdown," but that apparently didn't sit well with her colleague Rachel Nichols, especially when Taylor was chosen to spearhead the NBA finals coverage a year later instead of her. Per a report from The New York Times, Nichols was recorded telling Adam Mendelsohn, a longtime adviser to NBA superstar LeBron James, that Taylor only got the job due to ESPN's diversity initiative. "If you need to give her more things to do because you are feeling pressure about your crappy longtime record on diversity. ... Just find it somewhere else," she said in July 2020. Taylor announced that she was parting ways with the network a few weeks after the report was released, but as it turns out, it was primarily because of failed contract negotiations.

Maria Taylor and ESPN failed to agree on a contract

Rachel Nichols wasted no time issuing an apology to ESPN and Maria Taylor after her comments were made public. She opened her "The Jump" program with a statement, saying how she was "deeply, deeply sorry" for "disappointing those I hurt — particularly Maria Taylor — and how grateful I am to be part of this outstanding team." Meanwhile, ESPN chairman Jimmy Pitaro wrote in a memo addressed to the staff that the network is taking concrete steps to "improve the experiences of Black employees at ESPN" and that "Maria Taylor was selected as NBA Countdown host last year because she earned it," according to The Hollywood Reporter.

But all these had little impact on Taylor's decision to move on from ESPN. According to The New York Post, Taylor was initially offered $5 million to extend her contract, a significant bump from her salary of almost $1 million. However, sources say that Taylor wanted "Stephen A. Smith" money, which is reportedly in the range of $8 million.

The two parties reached an impasse and eventually announced in a joint statement that they were severing ties. "Maria's remarkable success speaks directly to her abilities and work ethic. There is no doubt we will miss Maria... While she chose to pursue a new opportunity, we are proud of the work we've done together," Pitaro said, while Taylor commented: "So thankful to Jimmy and all of my great teammates and friends... the people who believed in me, encouraged me, pushed me, and lifted me up."

Maria Taylor found a new home in NBC

Just a few days after Maria Taylor left ESPN, she joined competitor NBC Sports and immediately went to work on the network's Olympics coverage.

"It is an honor to be a part of this team, and the Olympic legacy," Taylor said during her debut with the network. She was also tasked to play an integral role in covering the NFL, including co-hosting "Football Night in America" and reporting for the Super Bowl. "Literally, hosting the Olympics, Football Night in America, and the Super Bowl is what I dreamed of when I started in television — and this would not be possible without standing on the shoulders of all of those who came before me and made this path possible," she shared in a statement at the time. "And I plan to pay it forward."

It didn't take long until NBC offered her a gig that marked another turning point in her career. In 2022, she was tapped to replace Mike Tirico and become the main host of "Football Night in America," with NBC Sports executive producer Sam Flood noting in a statement that "Maria is the perfect choice to carry the legacy forward of anchoring the most-watched studio show in sports." And per Taylor herself, the promotion was a "dream come true."