Sage Steele, ESPN Anchor Once Disciplined for Coronavirus Comments, Exits After Settling Lawsuit

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.

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“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 and Sage Steele have mutually agreed to part ways. We thank her for her many contributions over the years,” the network said in a statement.

ESPN has been working to cut costs as its parent company grapples with declines in viewership and advertising for its linear businesses. The company has cut ties with a number of prominent announcers and analysts, including Keyshawn Johnson, Jeff Van Gundy and Jalen Rose. Disney is among the biggest spenders on sports rights — one of the reasons for the success of ESPN over the decades — but will face increasing trouble if it does not keep an eye on costs, particularly as customers to might have once automatically subscribed to ESPN via cable or satellite seek other method of getting their sports fix.

Steele, known for stints on “SportsCenter” as well as “NBA Countdown,” has been offering unvarnished commentary for years. She has offered social-media commentary on an NFL player protesting during “The Star-Spangled Banner,” for example. She told Variety in 2017 she tries to ignore furor on places like Twitter. “The more people have been vocal about me, the stronger I’ve gotten and the easier it’s gotten for me to not really pay attention and not really care,” she said in an interview. She won’t let social-media furor distract her from her job or family. “I don’t have enough hours in the week for those two things.”

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