Sage Steele dishes on ‘controversial’ topics that prompted ESPN lawsuit: ‘So much bigger than me’

Sage Steele opened up to Fox News this week about her departure from ESPN, telling the network that she gave up her “dream job” in defense of the First Amendment.

It was “the hardest thing I’ve done in my professional career, for sure,” she said.

“And it’s up there probably top two personally because I knew that by truly taking a stand, it was going to mean something with legal action. And once you take legal action, your time at a company is probably not going to last much longer,” she added.


Steele sued ESPN in April of 2022, alleging in the complaint that the network had “breached her contract and violated her civil rights after she was temporarily taken off the air following remarks she made on a podcast in September 2021,” as reported by The Athletic.

“Steele was punished not only for exercising her constitutional right to free speech but because of the content of that speech,” the lawsuit read.

What exactly did she say? Appearing on the “Uncut with Jay Cutler” podcast, she “said female journalists are sometimes harassed because of what they choose to wear; that it’s strange that former President Barack Obama identifies as black because his black father was absent from his childhood and he was raised by his white mother and grandmother; and that ESPN made a ‘sick’ decision in mandating its employees be vaccinated against COVID-19,” according to The Athletic.

The remarks led to her veritable cancellation, and not once during the fiasco did ESPN have her back.

Returning to the present, Sage eventually settled the suit last month, after which she announced her departure from the network:

Speaking with Fox News, she said the decision to leave was much bigger than her.

“This is so much bigger than me. It would have been so much easier just to shut up and keep working the job that I love with people that I love and get my money and see what happens next. So much easier and so much safer,” she said.

“This is so much bigger than me. And if I really felt that if I didn’t do this, not only could I not look myself in the eye anymore because I had been so silent for so long with all the hypocrisies at my company, but what about all these other people who had come to me and emails and DMs — thousands of them — especially when I got suspended, saying, ‘Please don’t be quiet, please don’t stop,'” she added.

She also defended her “controversial” podcast take, saying that it was just her opinion.

“The three controversial topics about my thoughts with women in sports and just how we present ourselves. That’s my opinion, that’s my experience through 25 [years] at the time, 27 years in this industry, many times as the only woman in locker rooms, etc. That’s my experience and my opinion,” she said.

She went on to defend the racial stuff in particular “about being biracial and why I choose to acknowledge both my mother and my father.”

“That’s my opinion and that’s my experience. And that’s what I am. I’m both and I’m proud. So, I didn’t think that really was an issue. I was telling a story on something that involved ‘The View’ and Barbara Walters from 2014, when Barbara Walters brought up comparing me to Barack Obama. So, this is seven years prior. To me, this was old news. It was just another person asked me a question about why I’m so passionate about acknowledging both sides of my family,” she said.

And she addressed her remark about ESPN’s COVID mandate.

“And, finally, with the vaccine. The mandate. And I was very careful to make sure that I respected everybody’s opinions. And that my issue was with being forced to do it. And the fact that I had complied. I had literally just come from getting the mandatory shot. I waited until the very last second because I wasn’t sure if I was going to do it. So, I complied but still could have an opinion,” she said.

She also addressed the apology that ESPN reportedly forced her to issue after her podcast appearance in 2021.

“I was livid. I was fighting it, but I was told by my agent that if I didn’t apologize, then I would not have a job. I didn’t have a choice, and I had to apologize. And I was forced to work with their head PR guy,” she said.

“I remember a very long call that night trying to come to an agreement on what I would say. And they were very adamant that I didn’t say Disney or ESPN and I say ‘the company, the company, the company.’ So that was a tough time to be forced to apologize for something I didn’t feel I should be apologizing for,” she added.

Sage now admits that her decision to apologize — despite not wanting to — was a mistake.

“I had a lot of people who were mad at me for apologizing and saying, ‘You’re a sellout. I’ll never watch you again. And you’re just like the rest of them.’ And I felt the responsibility, that if I’m going to preach about this and how it’s not fair, then I need to go all the way with this,” she explained.

“Because there’s too many people who feel scared, who felt like I did for so long. So, what a waste all of this would have been. The roller coaster of the last couple of years would have been such a waste to not take it further and try to help others not be afraid,” she added.

She concluded her interview with Fox News by sharing her hope that her lawsuit and departure serve as a wake-up call to “woke corporations.

“Most importantly, I really hope that companies — other companies — from Disney all the way down as big or as small as you can imagine, can see this and say, ‘You know what? That actually isn’t diversity, equity and inclusion and tolerance and acceptance. It’s being more divisive, and it’s not the right way to run a business. Don’t we want everybody to buy our products and to watch our programing? Why are we choosing?’” she said.

“So, I hope companies can take note of this and just be equal and fair,” she added.


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