Rachel Nichols Returning To Mothership: Spurns Turner To Re-Join ESPN

As first reported on the Twitter feed of Vanity Fair’s Jim Miller, Rachel Nichols is returning to ESPN. SI.com later confirmed the story that Nichols is Bristol-bound once again to serve as an anchor and reporter. She is expected to embark on her new role early next year. Nichols previously spent a 10-year stint with the worldwide leader from 2004-2013, before departing for Time Warner, where she spent the past 3 years working for CNN, TBS, and TNT.

During Nichols’ original run with ESPN, she was a major contributor for their flagship program, SportsCenter, as well as Sunday NFL Countdown, NBA Countdown, and E:60. She is expected to return to both SportsCenter and E:60 as well as host her own program.

Rachel Nichols on Red Carpet for Premiere of "Two Night Stand" [Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images]Those familiar with Rachel Nichols’ work while at ESPN may be surprised to hear that she’ll be anchoring her own show, but she did just that under the Time Warner umbrella. Nichols was the name and face of Unguarded with Rachel Nichols on CNN, which debuted on October 25, 2013. Unfortunately for the 42-year-old Northwestern graduate, the show was unable to attract a consistent audience and was cancelled the following year. The show’s demise coincided with layoffs of around 8 percent of CNN’s staff at the time. Ironically, Nichols’ re-hiring at ESPN comes at a time when the network recently laid off approximately 300 employees of their own, though none of which were on-air talent.

Nichols did, however, flourish with the network as a sideline reporter for TBS’ coverage of Major League Baseball, the NBA on TNT, and the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament for both. She also further established herself as CNN’s lead reporter for both the Olympics and the Super Bowl. It was at this past Super Bowl that Nichols drew the ire of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell for asking him whether there was a conflict of interest regarding the league’s investigation into the New England Patriots and “Deflategate” while the team was readying for the big game against the Seattle Seahawks. It invoked this response from the commish and vaulted her into one of the 100 most influential people in the NFL, according to notable NFL journalist Peter King.

“Well, Rachel, I don’t agree with you in a lot of the assumptions you make in your question. I think we have had people who have had uncompromising integrity. I think we have done an excellent job of bringing outside consultants in. Somebody has to pay, Rachel. So unless you’re volunteering, which I don’t think you are, we will do that.”

Nichols did not back down, however, telling King the following at the time.

“The NFL has become our national sport. That’s not an accident. The league has worked very hard over the years to weave itself into the fabric of American life. But when you take on that position, that public trust, we’re all going to hold you to a higher standard. That’s what’s behind the questions I’ve been asking, and why I think those questions have resonated with so many football fans.”

Rachel Nichols at 2013 CNN Heroes at the American Museum of Natural History [Photo by Ben Gabbe/Getty Images]The hiring could be considered somewhat surprising due to Rachel Nichols’ friendship with former ESPN personality Bill Simmons. Simmons was suspended earlier this year for comments made about Goodell, and later, his contract was not renewed. Simmons has since taken his former employer to task both on his podcasts and on Twitter. He signed a new deal with HBO, and some thought Nichols could have landed there, as well. Another extravert let go by ESPN this year was Keith Olbermann, as the network continues to reshape their image. Nichols’ popularity and journalistic integrity should help in that re-molding, as ESPN faces a severe decrease in subscribers. In the last two years, nearly seven million homes have dropped the worldwide leader from their television packages.

[Photo by Larry Busacca/Getty Images]