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#pounditTuesday, July 27, 2021

Media

Report: Malika Andrews is ‘strong candidate’ to host ‘NBA Countdown’

Malika Andrews

Maria Taylor’s departure from ESPN means the network must find a new host for “NBA Countdown,” and one candidate seems to have emerged as a top choice.

According to Michael McCarthy of Front Office Sports, sideline reporter Malika Andrews has emerged as a “strong candidate” to take over as the host of the network’s NBA studio show. The 26-year-old served as the sideline reporter for the NBA Finals, handling the postgame presentation for the network after the Bucks won the title. She has also served as a reporter for numerous other games, and was even hand-picked to enter the bubble in Orlando last year as ESPN’s primary on-site reporter.

Andrews is a favorite, but the job is not guaranteed, partly due to her lack of experience as a studio host. Cassidy Hubbarth, Elle Duncan, and former “Countdown” host Sage Steele are also being considered for the role.

Notably, Rachel Nichols is not being considered for the role. Nichols landed in hot water after an audio clip leaked of her complaining about losing the “Countdown” role to Taylor, which prompted ESPN to remove her from her Finals role in favor of Andrews.

Whoever lands the role will be replacing Taylor, who announced her departure from ESPN earlier this week after failing to agree on a new contract.

Maria Taylor leaving ESPN, reportedly headed to NBC

Maria Taylor

Maria Taylor finished hosting the NBA Finals for ESPN on Tuesday night, and that will be her last assignment with the network.

Taylor and ESPN both released statements on Wednesday announcing that they could not come to an agreement on a contract extension. ESPN chairman Jimmy Pitaro thanked Taylor and complimented her on her “remarkable success.” Taylor’s statement also indicated that the split was amicable.

“So thankful to Jimmy 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 wrote. “Words are inadequate to express my boundless appreciation, and I hope to make them proud.”

The statements came not long after Andrew Marchand of the New York Post reported that Taylor is leaving ESPN to work for NBC. The 34-year-old is expected to be a part of NBC’s coverage of the Tokyo Olympics, which begin on Friday.

Marchand says Taylor could also become the host of “Football Night in America” when Mike Tirico takes over for Al Michaels as the play-by-play announcer for “Sunday Night Football.”

Taylor’s days with ESPN appeared to be numbered when she reportedly turned down $5 million per year from the network. She was said to be seeking Stephen A. Smith money, and we recently got a better idea of just how much that would be.

Then on July 4, a private audio recording was leaked to the New York Times of Rachel Nichols suggesting that ESPN stripped her of her contractual NBA Finals hosting role and gave it to Taylor to make up for their past poor record on diversity.

Marchand reports that Nichols will receive consideration to get her former job back as NBA Finals host with ESPN. Nichols illustrated with her recent social media activity that she has received a great deal of backlash over the Taylor controversy.

ESPN’s Jeff Passan trolls Stephen A. Smith over Shohei Ohtani comments

Stephen A. Smith

Stephen A. Smith made some controversial remarks about Shohei Ohtani last week that he has since apologized for, but that isn’t going to stop one of his co-workers from continuing to ridicule him.

Smith was heavily criticized when he said before the All-Star Game that Major League Baseball has a problem if its biggest star doesn’t speak English. He was referring only to marketability, but he was torn apart on social media and elsewhere. ESPN MLB insider Jeff Passan was among those who ripped Smith publicly, and he threw another shot at his colleague on Tuesday.

Passan tweeted a link to an article about Ohtani’s new endorsement deal with Fanatics. The story also mentioned that the Los Angeles Angels star accounted for 28 percent of all merchandise sales at the 2021 MLB All-Star Game. Passan wrote “Shohei Ohtani can’t be the face of baseball” in addition to tweeting the link. He used alternating lowercase and capital letters, which is a way of mocking someone via social media or text.

Smith initially stood by his remarks about Ohtani, but he later backed down. Pressure from Passan and others likely had a lot to do with that. Passan blasted him during an on-air segment that included both him and Smith. You can see that video here.

Peyton and Eli Manning to host ‘Monday Night Football’ megacast for ESPN

Peyton Manning

ESPN has sought to get Peyton Manning as its “Monday Night Football” analyst for years. They’ve succeeded — albeit in a new, non-traditional way.

ESPN announced Monday that Peyton and Eli Manning will headline what the network calls a Monday Night Football “MegaCast” production. The brothers have agreed to do ten games a year for each of the next three seasons, which will air on ESPN2 alongside the traditional “Monday Night Football” broadcast on ESPN.

The network says the telecasts will originate from a remote location with both Manning brothers. They will be joined by a yet-to-be-determined host, as well as guest appearances from celebrities and both current and former athletes. The broadcast promises to be “a mix of in-the-moment analysis, big picture NFL dialogue, knee-jerk reaction, historical perspective, and more.”

Peyton Manning’s Omaha Productions will co-produce the broadcasts with ESPN.

ESPN has served as the home of Peyton’s series “Peyton Places” and has sought to get him on game broadcasts for some time, with huge offers said to be on the table. Manning never took those, but he’s clearly comfortable doing this less traditional broadcast with his younger brother. Even though they won’t be occupying more traditional analyst roles, both Manning brothers should have some interesting insights to offer for whatever games they ultimately cover in this format.

Tony Gonzalez leaving FOX NFL pregame show

Tony Gonzalez

FOX is losing one of its analysts from their pregame NFL show.

Tony Gonzalez is leaving FOX to focus on TV and film projects, Front Office Sports’ Michael McCarthy reported.

Gonzalez, 45, joined FOX’s NFL coverage in 2017. He was part of their “FOX NFL Kickoff” and “FOX NFL Sunday” shows. The Hall of Famer appeared in “xXx: Return of Xander Cage,” which was released in 2017. He acts in an upcoming project called “MVP.”

FOX recently hired Mark Sanchez away from ESPN. Sanchez is expected to serve as a game analyst for FOX. Gonalez mostly worked as a studio analyst.

Maria Taylor close to deal with NBC Sports but looking for ESPN to raise offer?

Maria Taylor

Maria Taylor’s contract negotiations with ESPN have been a major topic over the last few weeks, and there is a new twist in the story.

Front Office Sports’ Michael McCarthy reported Wednesday that Taylor was in negotiations with NBC Sports. He quoted a source saying that the deal was at the “half-yard line,” but that the talks could fall apart. The source also said ESPN could raise its offer.

Taylor is reportedly making around $1 million a year at ESPN. Her contract expires on July 20.

The subject of Taylor’s contract talks were raised by the New York Post in late June. A report said Taylor turned down $5 million a year and was seeking Stephen A. Smith money. Here is how much Smith earns at ESPN.

ESPN reportedly recently offered Taylor $3 million a year, but she now reportedly wants around $5 million.

Then a private audio recording was leaked to the New York Times of Rachel Nichols suggesting that ESPN stripped her of her contractual NBA Finals hosting role and gave it to Taylor to make up for their past poor record on diversity. Some viewed that story leak, which came weeks before Taylor’s contract expired, as a warning by Taylor’s camp to ESPN that they would be painted as racist if they did not pay Taylor the money she is seeking.

Between that Nichols audio leak and this leak about NBC Sports, which leaves open the possibility of Taylor returning to ESPN if they up their offer, it’s easy to view the stories as negotiation ploys by Taylor’s camp.

Taylor is a top college football reporter at ESPN and host of “NBA Countdown.” At NBC, she could host “Football Night in America,” report on Notre Dame football, as well as host for their Olympics coverage and possibly other shows.

Rachel Nichols returns to Twitter after absence, turns off replies

Rachel Nichols

Rachel Nichols has returned to social media after a brief hiatus, but that does not mean the ESPN host and reporter wants to hear from her fans and followers.

Nichols, who recently found herself at the center of a scandal, tweeted on Tuesday for the first time since July 6. Her first tweet after the one-week absence was a video of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s appearance on “The Jump.” As you might expect, the content didn’t matter.

Nichols was ratio’ed, to put it lightly. Several people trolled her over the Maria Taylor drama and called her things like a “racist” and a “fraud.” Nichols then turned her replies off so people couldn’t tweet at her.

An audio clip that was leaked on the 4th of July featured Nichols complaining that Taylor was given the NBA Finals hosting job over her last year. Nichols criticized ESPN for its “crappy longtime record on diversity” but said she felt she was more deserving than Taylor. You can listen to the audio clip here.

Nichols was taken off one episode of “The Jump” in the wake of the controversy, but she has since returned. She was, however, replaced as ESPN’s sideline reporter for the NBA Finals.

Stephen A. Smith apologizes to Shohei Ohtani, gets blasted by Jeff Passan

Stephen A. Smith

Stephen A. Smith issued an apology on Tuesday for the controversial remarks he made about Shohei Ohtani the day before, but the mea culpa does not seem like it was enough for one of his prominent ESPN co-workers.

Smith said on Monday’s edition of “First Take” that he views it as a problem for Major League Baseball that its biggest star does not speak English. Ohtani is from Japan and uses an interpreter when he interacts with the media. Many found Smith’s take to be offensive, but he initially stood by it and said he was only making a point about “marketability and promotion.” You can see the video of his elaboration here.

Eventually, Smith apologized. He began “First Take” on Tuesday by offering his “sincere apology” to the Asian community and those he offended.

Smith issued a similar apology on Twitter Monday night. That didn’t stop Passan from sharing his unfiltered thoughts on the topic. The MLB insider also appeared on “First Take,” and he criticized Smith for “trafficking in ignorance.”

Smith’s job is to provide hot takes, but many feel he crossed the line on Monday. In addition to his Ohtani comments, he also made some remarks about the Nigerian basketball team that did not go over well.

Stephen A. Smith stands by controversial Shohei Ohtani remarks

Shohei Ohtani

Stephen A. Smith was heavily scrutinized on Monday for some comments he made about Los Angeles Angels star Shohei Ohtani becoming the face of Major League Baseball. Many demanded an apology, but the ESPN personality is standing by what he said.

Smith said on Monday’s edition of “First Take” that he views it as a problem for MLB that its biggest star does not speak English. Ohtani is from Japan and uses an interpreter when he interacts with the media. Many found Smith’s take to be insensitive, but Smith tried to elaborate in a video he posted on Twitter.

“I’m talking about the marketability and the promotion of the sport. … If you are a sport trying to ingratiate yourself with the American public the way Major League Baseball is, because of the problems you’ve been dealing with in terms of having to improve the attractiveness of the sport, it helps if you speak the English language,” Smith said. “It doesn’t mean anything more than that.”

Smith went on to say that he was alluding to baseball having a significantly older audience than the NBA and other sports.

“In the United States, all I was saying was that if you’re a superstar and can speak the English language then, guess what, it’s going to make it that much easier and less challenging to promote the sport,” he added.

The people who want Smith suspended or worse for his initial take probably won’t appreciate his follow-up, either. The point he was clearly trying to make was that it will be more difficult for fans to relate to a player who doesn’t speak the same language as them. Even some of his own colleagues openly disagreed.

Ohtani will make history again on Tuesday when he becomes the first player to start the All-Star Game as a pitcher and DH. MLB even tweaked a rule to allow him to play more.

Stephen A. Smith ripped for comments about Shohei Ohtani

Stephen A. Smith

Stephen A. Smith expressed concern on Monday about Shohei Ohtani becoming the face of Major League Baseball, and the ESPN analyst has come under heavy fire for his take.

Ohtani has taken baseball by storm this year as a player who is doing things that have not been done in century. The Los Angeles Angels star is from Japan and speaks limited English, which Smith sees as a problem for MLB. During Monday’s edition of “First Take,” Smith said he views it as a negative that the face of American baseball is a player who uses an interpreter.

“I understand that baseball is an international sport in terms of participation. But when you talk about an audience gravitating to the (TV) or the ballpark to actually watch you, I don’t think it helps that the No. 1 face is a dude that needs an interpreter so you can understand what the hell he is saying, in this country,” Smith said.

The reaction was quite predictable. Smith was torn apart on Twitter, with many fellow members of the media demanding that he apologize and be suspended. ESPN’s Mina Kimes took a swipe at Smith after it was announced that Ohtani will be the starting pitcher for the American League in Tuesday’s All-Star Game and bat leadoff.

That was obviously a bad take from Smith. Calling Ohtani a once-in-a-generation talent would be an understatement, and most baseball fans care a lot more about what he does on the diamond than his interactions with the media. Heck, MLB even tweaked an All-Star Game rule to give fans more Ohtani.

Despite the backlash, Smith stood by his take as usual. He posted a video on Twitter elaborating on what he meant.