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Fearless: Rachel Nichols ‘deeply sorry’ Maria Taylor is not woman enough for her job, gives Taylor on-camera belly rub and head pat

Op-ed
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About 25 years ago, a bigoted co-worker of mine at the Kansas City Star stood up in a staff meeting and complained to the publisher and the editor that I was an unqualified stain on the newspaper.

Including me, there were approximately 25 people in the meeting. There may have been two other black men in the room. No one offered me a defense. The publisher and editor muttered a weak rebuttal.

I left the meeting mad. But I also left the meeting determined. Determined to continue shining. Determined to make fools of anyone who doubted me as a journalist and a columnist.

At the time of the meeting, I'd worked as a sports columnist at the KC Star for three years. I was wildly popular. My impact and success at the Star had been chronicled in a cover story by the Columbia Journalism Review. My impact and success caused the publisher and editor to direct additional finances toward expanding the sports department.

My co-worker was a raving, jealous lunatic with a well-known reputation for bigotry and sloppy work.

I never sought an apology from him. His support was immaterial to my success. I worked alongside him for the next 13 years without incident. He covered one of our major beats. We communicated when necessary.

I bring all this up because I don't understand the Maria Taylor-Rachel Nichols controversy. In a private conversation, Nichols politely told a friend that Taylor's race played a role in Taylor getting the ESPN NBA Countdown hosting job over Nichols.

Nichols did not disparage Taylor's talent or work ethic. Nichols did not state her opinion publicly. Nichols did nothing to offend Taylor. Nothing. Nichols' private conversation was accidentally recorded and a year later intentionally leaked to the New York Times.

Taylor has refused to speak with Nichols and has refused to appear on camera with Nichols for the past year because Nichols had the audacity to think ESPN plays the racial diversity game.

This story reached full absurdity Monday afternoon when Nichols opened her television show, "The Jump," by stating she's "deeply sorry" for disappointing and hurting her co-workers and Maria Taylor. Former NBA players Kendrick Perkins and Richard Jefferson then briefly scolded Nichols before slobbering on about how great Taylor is. Nichols spoke for 27 seconds. Perkins and Jefferson — two people who had nothing to do with the friction between Nichols and Taylor — rambled for 40 seconds apiece.

It was bizarre. This entire controversy is ludicrous and feels manufactured. It reminds me of the Matt James-Rachael Kirkconnell season of "The Bachelor." A white woman went on national TV in pursuit of a black husband, and she was framed as racist because three years earlier she wore a sundress at a sorority party celebrating the old South.

This is what television networks and personalities do. They gin up and/or exploit racial dysfunction for ratings, relevance, and, in Taylor's case, contract leverage.

I can't imagine pretending to be as fragile as Taylor, a 34-year-old former Division I basketball and volleyball player. I can't imagine being so obsessed with the opinions of my white co-workers that their private thoughts could hurt me to the point that I'd expect the company's human resources department to address it.

This is embarrassing for black people. I say black people, and not just Taylor, because Perkins, Jefferson, Jalen Rose, and several other black ESPN employees have publicly validated Taylor's allegedly hurt feelings. This is my problem with modern liberals — black and white. Black liberals turn emotional and weak at the thought of a white person not rubbing their bellies and patting their heads in approval. They believe that the approval, appreciation, and affinity of white people is necessary for black success.

It's never been true in my career. My work ethic has always determined my level of success. I worked at the Kansas City Star for 16 straight years. Throughout those last 13 years, the management at the Star tried to satisfy my detractors and diminish my level of success and spotlight.

Was the management racist? Not really. A few of my detractors definitely were, and they squealed loudly. Management oiled the squeaky wheels. It's what weak leadership does.

I didn't have time to squeak. I was too focused on letting my work squeak back. In 2007, I won the most prestigious journalism award the newspaper had received in 15 years, and my work earned me an appearance on the Oprah Winfrey Show. I started working for ESPN and Fox Sports. I launched successful local radio shows.

I overwhelmed my detractors with excellence. The excellence I produced swelled my bank account. In 2010, I left the Kansas City Star for far greener pastures. A decade later, no one knows the name or the work of my KC detractors.

Maria Taylor doesn't have detractors. She has competitors. No one is questioning Taylor's broadcasting talent. She's a natural on camera. Does she work as hard as her competitors? That's up for debate. In the last year, she's chosen to cut corners by constantly playing the race card and claiming that any and every slight is a bullet to her head.

She acts like she's not woman enough to handle the natural turbulence and jealousy at the top of any industry. Rachel Nichols has handled this kerfuffle like a grown woman. Taylor appears childish. At the top of her TV show Monday, Nichols symbolically rubbed Taylor's belly and patted her head. "Black Twitter" was very pleased with the "apology."

It's embarrassing.

The level of delusion fueling this fiasco is mind-blowing. According to the New York Post, Taylor wants a contract similar to a Stephen A. Smith's $8 million-a-year deal.

It's a preposterous demand. Everyone knows it. Taylor doesn't know the position she plays. To use a football analogy, Taylor plays center and Smith plays quarterback. Smith is ESPN's franchise quarterback. He's Lamar Jackson. Viewers tune in to see him succeed or fail.

On NBA Countdown, Taylor snaps the ball to journeymen quarterbacks — Jalen Rose, Jay Williams, and Adrian Wojnarowski. They are Jared Goff, Ryan Fitzpatrick, and Sam Darnold. You could replace Taylor with another center — Nichols — and no one would notice.

The difference is, Nichols can handle the physicality of playing in the NFL. Taylor can't. She requires constant worship, belly rubs, and head pats from white people.

It's not going to happen. Trust me, her black peers, including the ones publicly supporting her, criticize her privately.

My credentials as an impact sports journalist are undeniable. I still have detractors. It's the price of success. Pay the price or go work at a fast-food drive-through.
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