ESPN Analyst Sage Steele talks on set during Game Four of the NBA Finals between the Toronto Raptors and the Golden State Warriors at Oracle Arena in Oakland, California, June 7, 2019.
Rey Josue II | NBA Photos | National Basketball Association | Getty Images
Sage Steele and ESPN have parted ways.
The longtime SportsCenter anchor said on X, the website formerly known as Twitter, that she was exiting Disney’s ESPN following a lawsuit settlement with the network.
Steele sued the network in 2022, alleging the company retaliated against her for comments she made in a podcast interview with former NFL quarterback Jay Cutler regarding the Covid vaccine and other political and social issues.
“Having successfully settled my case with ESPN/Disney, I have decided to leave so I can exercise my first amendment rights more freely,” Steele wrote Tuesday on X. “I am grateful for so many wonderful experiences over the past 16 years and am excited for my next chapter!”
In her lawsuit against ESPN and its parent company, the anchor alleged her contract and free speech rights were violated after she was “sidelined” following her podcast appearance.
“ESPN and Sage Steele have mutually agreed to part ways,” an ESPN spokesperson said Tuesday. “We thank her for her many contributions over the years.”
During the September 2021 podcast, Sage said she had been vaccinated against Covid but referred to the company’s vaccine mandate as “sick.”
She also made comments regarding former President Barack Obama’s race, saying, “Barack Obama chose Black and he’s biracial … 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.” Sage also accused the late Barbara Walters of belittling her for identifying as biracial.
Steele is the daughter of Gary Steele, the first Black football player at West Point, and Mona Steele, a white woman.
During the same podcast, Steele also suggested that women who wear provocative clothes in the workplace bear responsibility for sexism they may experience.
Soon after the podcast, Steele apologized for her comments, saying, “I know my recent comments created controversy for the company, and I apologize. 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.”
Following her comments, Steele said in her lawsuit that media coverage “erupted” and in “a knee-jerk reaction,” ESPN and its parent company forced her to publicly apologize and suspended her for a period of time soon after.
Steele said in the lawsuit she was protected by the First Amendment and that she did nothing wrong since she was interviewed on the podcast as a private citizen on her day off, rather than as an ESPN employee.