Sage Steele, the veteran ESPN sportscaster who became better known in recent years for her stances on hot topics like coronavirus vaccinations, has left the Disney sports giant.
Steele, who joined ESPN in 2007, said on social media that she had recently settled a lawsuit with her employer after she was suspended in 2021 for comments she made on an outside podcast about getting vaccinated, how women dress and former President Barack Obama’s lineage.
“Having successfully settled my case with ESPN/Disney, I have decided to leave so I can exercise my first amendment rights more freely,” Steele said. “I am grateful for so many wonderful experiences over the past 16 years and am excited for my next chapter!” Steele had alleged in a 2022 lawsuit that Disney and ESPN retaliated against her for the comments she made during the podcast, hosted by Jay Cutler, taking away high-profile assignments. She charged the companies had breached her contract and violated her free-speech rights.
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.
In June, ESPN offered to settle the lawsuit for just over $500,000 plus attorneys fees and costs.
The terms of the settlement disclosed Tuesday were not immediately made public, and Steele’s attorneys did not immediately return emails seeking comment.
ESPN issued a statement confirming only Steele’s departure from the network.
“ESPN and Sage Steele have mutually agreed to part ways,” spokesman Josh Krulewitz wrote. “We thank her for her many contributions over the years.”
In 2021, Steele made a number of controversial comments on a podcast. While talking about ESPN’s company vaccine mandate, Steele said she respects an individual’s decision to get the Covid-19 vaccine “but to mandate it is sick, and it’s scary to me.”
She also questioned Obama’s decision to identify as Black on the census.
“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.
Steele also made comments about female sports reporters and sexual harassment, saying that women need to “be responsible” and it “isn’t just on players and athletes and coaches to act a certain way.”
She continued: “I’ve had talks with young women … they’re like, ‘Oh, would you look at my tape?’ and I’ve said listen, I would love to. But the way you present yourself is not something I want to be associated with. So when you dress like that, I’m not saying you deserve the gross comments, but you know what you’re doing when you’re putting that outfit on, too.”
In response, 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.”
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