Steele apologized saying her comments “created controversy” and that “we are in the midst of an extremely challenging time that impacts all of us, and it’s more critical than ever that we communicate constructively and thoughtfully.”
ESPN and anchor Sage Steele have settled a lawsuit she filed after being disciplined for comments she made about the company’s policy requiring employees to receive the COVID-19 vaccines.
Steele, 50, was first hired by the network in 2007. Now, she’s out after 16 years. The longtime SportsCenter anchor says she’s leaving so she can speak freely elsewhere. ESPN offered Steele $501,000 to settle her lawsuit out of court. However, she rejected it.
“Having successfully settled my case with ESPN/Disney, I have decided to leave so I can exercise my first amendment rights more freely,” she wrote. “I am grateful for so many wonderful experiences over the past 16 years and am excited for my next chapter!”
Having successfully settled my case with ESPN/Disney, I have decided to leave so I can exercise my first amendment rights more freely. I am grateful for so many wonderful experiences over the past 16 years and am excited for my next chapter!#SteeleStrong
— Sage Steele (@sagesteele) August 15, 2023
Steele’s lawsuit was filed in May 2022 in Connecticut Superior Court. She was removed from the air for 10 days in October 2021 for criticizing ESPN and The Walt Disney Co.’s vaccine mandate. Steele was also pulled from covering the Rose Parade, the New York City Marathon, and the annual ESPNW Summit.
“Disney and ESPN clearly admit their liability by offering to pay Sage Steele more than half a million dollars for taking away her right to free speech,” Bryan Freedman, Steele’s attorney, told Front Office Sports. “The offer misses the point. Disney cannot purchase their employee’s constitutional rights no matter how powerful they think they are.
“How about apologizing and treating people fairly? Let me put it this way, would Disney be willing to accept money from the state of Florida and Governor DeSantis in exchange for being silenced? Why the double standard?”
Politics and sports will never mix. The COVID-19 pandemic divided the nation. Mandates of any kind will always cause controversy. That should go without saying.
ESPN anchor Sage Steele quits network after settling COVID-19 vaccine lawsuit, rejected $501,000 offer from “The Worldwide Leader in Sports” to settle lawsuit out of court
While on “Uncut with Jay Cutler” podcast, she said that a corporate vaccine mandate was “sick” and “scary to me in many ways.” According to the lawsuit, Steele also insinuated that she felt coerced into getting the COVID-19 vaccines and only did so to keep her job to support her family.
Additionally, Steele said on Cutler’s podcast that she identifies as biracial and questioned former President Barack Obama’s decision to identify himself as Black on the recent U.S. Census. The network has expressed liberal views on political issues since the early 2010s.
“I’m like, ‘Well, congratulations to the president.’ That’s his thing. I think that’s fascinating considering his Black dad was nowhere to be found, but his White mom and grandma raised him, but hey, you do you. I’m going to do me,” Steele said.
— NBACentral (@TheDunkCentral) August 15, 2023
ESPN “forced Steele to apologize, allowed media to destroy her, and let media reports that she had been suspended go unchallenged, and allowed Steele’s colleagues to defame her in violation of company policy without so much as a reprimand,” her lawyers wrote in the lawsuit.
Of course, ESPN Press Room confirmed Steele’s departure. “ESPN and Sage Steele have mutually agreed to part ways,” ESPN Vice President, Communications spokesman Josh Krulewitz wrote. “We thank her for her many contributions over the years.”
Last week, Malika Andrews of NBA Today replaced Mike Greenberg as ESPN’s new NBA Finals host. Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson were both fired by the network. Mike Breen will now be joined by Doris Burke and Doc Rivers on the lead play-by-play team.
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