Sage Steele Sues ESPN, Claims Network Violated Her Freedom Of Speech

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Sage Steele is not feeling her employer, ESPN.

After a controversial appearance on a Jay Cutler podcast last year, Steele has felt her role diminished on the network, and now she is taking her claims to court.

It was only 15 years ago when Sage first debuted on SportsCenter and began hosting NBA Countdown on ESPN and then ABC. Her accolades and credentials are not to be trifled with, nor is her American pedigree – the daughter of Gary Steele, the first brother to play varsity football for Army, and Mona, a woman of Irish/Italian descent.

However, despite having the DNA of three groups of people who have faced discrimination in this country at some point in history, Steele has a very loose, palsy-palmed approach to grasping issues of racial and ethnic sensitivity. She constantly reminds us that every Black or Brown face doesn’t necessarily know what it is to be Black or Brown in America.

The SportsCenter anchor is now suing ESPN and its parent company, Walt Disney Co., on grounds of breaching her contract and violating her freedom of speech. She also claims to be sidelined for premium on-air assignments while only anchoring ESPN’s noon “SportsCenter” broadcast.

A New View

Steele appeared on former NFL quarterback Jay Cutler’s “UnCut” podcast and discussed what happened on an episode of “The View.” The anchor has co-hosted the panel show multiple times.

Steele described to Cutler during the Sept. 29 podcast episode what she remembered about one of her guest host appearances on “The View.” She said Barbara Walters ripped into her on live TV about being biracial instead of Black. Steele recounted to Cutler what she says happened during her exchange with Walters on “The View”:

“She’s like, ‘What happens when you fill out your Census? If they make you pick a race, what do you choose?’”

”’Well, both,’” Steele told Cutler she replied.

“’Well, you can’t. Barack Obama chose Black, and he’s biracial,’” Steele said Walters replied.

Saging The View

“Well, congratulations to the president, that’s his thing, and 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, and I’m going to do me,” Steele continued. “And then they put up a picture behind me of my parents and my brothers and me.”

“Listen, I’m pretty sure my white mom was there when I was born, my white family loves me as much as my Black family, and I got killed for this, Jay,” Steele concluded.

Steele’s father is Black, and her mother is white.

Forced Apology

A week after making these comments on the podcast, Steele issued a public apology for putting ESPN in the middle of a sticky situation.

“I know my recent comments created controversy for the company, and I apologize,” Steele said. “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 also released a statement at the time.

“At ESPN, we embrace different points of view — dialogue and discussion makes this place great,” the network said in its statement. “That said, we expect that those points of view be expressed respectfully, in a manner consistent with our values, and in line with our internal policies. We are having direct conversations with Sage and those conversations will remain private.”

Selective Enforcement

According to The Wall Street Journal, the lawsuit alleges the network failed to “stop bullying and harassment by Ms. Steele’s colleagues.”

Back in 2017, the network established a rule that requires its employees not to comment on political matters without a tie to sports. However, Steele reportedly believes her case was “selective enforcement” of this rule.

Violated

Steele believes that ESPN broke Connecticut legal statute Sec. 31-51q, which “violated Connecticut law and Steele’s rights to free speech based upon a faulty understanding of her comments and a nonexistent, unenforced workplace policy that serves as nothing more than pretext,” per The Wall Street Journal.

Having joined ESPN in 2007 as the host of the late afternoon “SportsCenter,” Steele had been ubiquitous at the network.

Rhett Butler is a Boxing Writer Association of America Journalist, Play-By-Play Commentator, Combat Sports Insider, and Former Mixed Martial Arts and Boxing Promoter. The New York City native honed his skills at various news outlets including but not limited to: TIME Magazine, Money Magazine, CNN's Wolf Blitzer Reports, and more. Rhett hosts the PRITTY Left Hook podcast, a polarizing combat sports insider's take featuring the world's biggest names.