Sage Steele sues ESPN claiming she was forced to apologize for questioning Barack Obama's 'blackness'
ESPN anchor Sage Steele has sued ESPN and its parent company, Walt Disney Co., accusing them of violating her free-speech rights as well as breaching her contract because of some remarks she made on former NFL quarterback Jay Cutler’s podcast in September last year. Steele has alleged that the network not just temporarily benched her, it also forced her to apologize after she questioned Covid-19 vaccine mandates and condemned former president Barack Obama’s decision to call himself a Black man on ‘Uncut’.
The Daily Mail reported that the Wall Street Journal has seen the 49-year-old television host’s suit, which claims that ESPN took action against her after the September 2021 podcast and seized “prime assignments” from her and also did not take any action to stop bullying and harassment she faced from her co-workers. She has alleged that the cable sports channel went against her after listening to “inaccurate third-party accounts of Steele's comments, and that the network did not immediately review the actual comments or the context in which they were made.”
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The ‘SportsCenter’ host reportedly demanded unstated damages while blaming ESPN for being hypocritical as it did not take action against its other workers who made “political comments”. Her filing states her case was representing “selective enforcement of a network policy that bars news personnel from taking positions on political or social issues.” “Sage is standing up to corporate America to ensure employees don't get their rights trampled on or their opinions silenced,” her attorney, Bryan Freedman, said.
It has been said that the issue between Steele and ESPN began after she sat for the ‘Uncut’ podcast and expressed her frustration of getting jabbed against the coronavirus because of her workplace rule. She had told Cutler: “I respect everyone's decision, I really do, but to mandate it is sick and it's scary to me in many ways. But I have a job, a job that I love and, frankly, a job that I need.”
During the same conversation, she also called out Obama for not identifying himself as a bi-racial man on the US Census. Steele, who calls herself bi-racial, said at the time: “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.”
However, after much outrage, she had to issue an apology that read: “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.”
But things did not change after that also as she was reportedly not assigned the New York City Marathon and the network's annual diversity summit. It was only when she sent a letter to HR in February 2022, she was “subsequently offered” to co-host the Masters Tournament. And, now Steele has taken the help of law as her legal team claimed ESPN went against her “based upon a faulty understanding of her comments and a nonexistent, unenforced workplace policy that serves as nothing more than pretext.”
But the network has responded and in a statement claimed Steele is still a part of the company. It said: “Sage remains a valued contributor on some of ESPN's highest profile content, including the recent Masters telecasts and anchoring our noon SportsCenter.”