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ESPN anchor Sage Steele is suing the network, and parent company Disney, for the way it handled her comments about COVID-19 vaccine mandates and former President Barack Obama. The suit claims Steele’s First Amendment rights were violated because she was forced to apologize and Steele asserts her contract was breached.
Additionally, the suit claims the ESPN anchor has not received any top assignments and the network has failed to protect her from being bullied by her coworkers.
The comments that caused this lawsuit were made during a podcast hosted by former NFL quarterback Jay Cutler in September 2021. Steele said COVID-19 vaccine mandates were “sick.” She opted to have the vaccine so she could keep her job and take care of her family. The ESPN anchor also criticized Obama for identifying as Black when his “Black father was nowhere to be found.” Additionally, Steele implied that the way female journalists dress could impact the type of attention gained by professional athletes.
The female sports anchor was absent from the air for a brief time, however, it was reported that she had tested positive for COVID-19 during that time. Steele returned to her noontime post at the SportsCenter desk after apologizing for “causing the network controversy.”
Steele has been the noontime SportsCenter ESPN anchor since 2007. She said the network enforced its rule forbidding employees from talking about politics without tying it into sports, even though other employees have not been punished for similar behavior.
The suit references a Connecticut law that states companies cannot punish an employee for exercising their First Amendment rights, as long as those comments do not interfere with the ability to do their job and maintain a positive work environment. . Bryan Freedman, Steele’s lawyer stated, “Sage is standing up to corporate America to ensure employees don’t get their rights trampled on or their opinions silenced.”
“Uncut with Jay Cutler” is not affiliated with Disney or ESPN. The sportscaster appeared on the podcast as a private citizen, not an ESPN sports anchor.
ESPN released a statement asserting Steele was not suspended for her comments and is a valued member of the network and hosted the Masters’ telecast and the noon SportsCenter.
Written by Jeanette Vietti
Audacy: Sage Steele suing ESPN over response to vaccine, Obama remarks; by Dan Mennella
The Wall Street Journal: ESPN Anchor Sage Steele Sues Network, Alleging Violation of Free-Speech Rights
The Big Lead: Sage Steele Was Fine With Business Decisions and Free Speech Repercussions For Colin Kaepernick in 2017; by Stephen Douglas
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