Anchor Sues ESPN, Arguing Retaliation Over Comments

Sage Steele says podcast remarks about Obama, vaccine mandates were made as a private citizen
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 28, 2022 3:46 PM CDT
Sage Steele Files Free-Speech Suit Against ESPN
Sage Steele speaks at an event in 2017 in Marina del Rey, Calif.   (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)

An ESPN anchor has sued the network, saying it retaliated against her over remarks she made as a guest on an unrelated podcast last fall. The filing by Sage Steele says the company's actions were in breach of her contract and a violation of her right to free speech, the Wall Street Journal reports. Steele was taken off the air temporarily after her appearance on a podcast in September hosted by former NFL quarterback Jay Cutler. Her lawsuit accuses her employer of taking other retaliatory measures, as well.

Steele's comments on the podcast concerned topics including former President Obama's racial identity (she said it was "fascinating" he identifies as Black instead of biracial, as she does) and coronavirus vaccine mandates (she called them "sick"). When criticism surfaced on social media, ESPN told her she'd be taking a break; she considered that a suspension, though the network says it wasn't. The suit says Steele was compelled to offer an apology. After a few weeks away from her job, Steele says, she was removed from major assignments. When she complained to human resources, she was offered the co-hosting job for the Masters.

Cutler's podcast isn't affiliated with ESPN or Walt Disney Co., the network's parent company, and Steele argues that she appeared as a private citizen and didn't speak for the network. The suit says ESPN selectively enforces its policy prohibiting news personnel from speaking about political or social issues, per the Hollywood Reporter. The network said it took no disciplinary measures against Steele over the podcast comments. "Sage remains a valued contributor on some of ESPN's highest profile content," a network statement said. Her suit seeks unspecified damages. (More ESPN stories.)

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