- Sage Steele has taken a break from TV after she made controversial comments about race, sexism and coronavirus protocols during interview with Jay Cutler
- Steele called ESPN’s vaccine mandate ‘sick,’ commented on Obama’a blackness and accused female journalists of welcoming harassment
- She was placed on a break and will not take part in the network’s espnW summit, which focuses on women in sports
- Her break was attributed to her controversial comments, however a source familiar with the situation also claims Steele tested positive for COVID
- She is expected to return to full duty at ESPN next week
ESPN anchor Sage Steele has been taken off the air after blasting vaccine mandates and questioning Barack Obama’s blackness – with network sources claiming she also has COVID.
During a podcast interview, Steele, 48, called her network’s coronavirus vaccine mandate ‘sick.’ She suggested that female journalists welcome harassment based on the way they dress, and also remarked on how the bi-racial former president was raised by his white mom.
The furor over Steele’s appearance on ex-NFL star Jay Cutler’s podcast has seen the divorced mom of three announce she is taking a break from her job – while also issuing a groveling apology for her remarks.
‘I know my recent comments created controversy for the company, and I apologize,’ Steele said in a statement obtained by Variety. ‘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.’
Steele’s mea culpa was shared as unnamed source who is familiar with the situation alleges that the presenter was removed from air because she also tested positive for COVID-19. She is expected back at work next week.
The drama began when Steele appeared on Uncut with Jay Cutler on September 29 and addressed several hot button topics, including the ongoing pandemic and vaccine mandates.
She claimed that she was required to get the shot after Disney — ESPN’s parent company — issued a mandate for all employees. The longtime anchor said she felt ‘defeated’ and got the shot in an effort to preserve her job.
‘I respect everyone’s decision, I really do, but to mandate it is sick and it’s scary to me in many ways. But I have a job, a job that I love and, frankly, a job that I need,’ Steele told Cutler.
Steele also joked that the nurse who issued her vaccination intentionally injured her arm because the she thought the sports journalist was Candace Owens, a black conservative political commentator who has spoken out against the virus.
‘It hurt! And I’m tough, but I think she put it in the muscle and was like “err,”‘ Steele said. ‘Maybe she thought I was Candace Owens, I don’t know.’
Steele noted that she ‘respects the hell out of Candace Owens.’
The anchor also touched on race, sharing a story about how she was ‘ripped’ on live television for identifying as bi-racial.
She claimed that the show host told her she had to choose either white or black when filling out federal census data. Steele said the host then cited that Obama identified as black on his census.
‘I’m like, “Well, congratulations to the president. That’s his thing,”‘ Steele said.
‘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. I’m going to do me.’
The presenter’s mom Mona is Irish-Italian, while her father Gary was the first African-American to play football for the United States’ Military Academy as a tight end for West Point’s Black Knights team in 1966.
Steele, who began her career as a TV news reporter in Indiana in 1997, before joining ESPN in 2007, also shared how some athletes would make inappropriate comments towards her or invite her to dinner in exchange for inside information.
‘There were some guys, some players in particular, who made things difficult and if I looked back on the things they said — but I didn’t know any different,’ she explained.
‘What are you gonna do? I had no one to tell.’
She continued: ‘I actually didn’t care, Jay. Women now would probably have a problem with me not caring because, I get it, with Me Too and all that. But at the end of the day, I was new and I don’t think people were being malicious. They were just being stupid guys in the locker room. So I would laugh it off and ask my question anyway.
She added that, in recent years, she rejected requests from female journalists asking for help and advice on succeeding in the industry because she doesn’t want to associate herself with reporters who present themselves in certain ways.
Steele also stated that she believes women ‘need to be responsible as well’ for inappropriate comments directed at them.
Asked by Cutler ‘Was it tough getting jobs as a woman in (the sports broadcasting) field?’, the anchor gave a lengthy answer detailing how contacts had offered her information in return for dates, adding that she’d always stuck to her principles.
She then explained how women occasionally contact her for advice on getting into the field of sports’ journalism – but that she was put-off by some who dressed inappropriately.
Steele said: ‘I do think as women we need to be responsible as well.
‘It isn’t just on players and athletes and coaches to act a certain way
‘I mean I’ve had talks with young women who like would come in and they didn’t turn um with with me with our channel or just other women who reach out to me now
‘And I’ve said to a couple of them they’re like well would you look at my tape would you do this.
‘And I said listen I would love to but the way that you present yourself is not something I want to be associated with.
‘Yeah, so when you dress like that yeah I’m not saying you deserve the gross comments.
‘But you know what you’re doing when you’re putting that outfit on too
‘Like women are smart, so don’t play coy and put it all on the guys when we – and again I’m not saying anybody deserves anything yes – but we need to be responsible as women too.
‘Because we know what we’re doing when we put certain things on and and then return a certain text.’
Her interview sparked controversy in the sports world, as well as on social media.
‘“Not saying you deserve the gross comments BUT you know what you’re doing…” Soooo, basically you’re saying someone actually does deserve the gross comments. What if a person just likes a particular style and they dress for themself (sic) and not for anyone else’s pleasure? Girl bye!,’ one Twitter user said.
‘Is the polio vaccine sick too? Million of people have died from this. When is enough enough? If you think it’s sick you better have a good argument for why. She has no argument,’ another said.
‘What legitimate purpose is there for forcing someone to pick one race when they are mixed? Why isn’t mixed an option? If I were her, I would check the “other” box and write in “mixed”. If enough people do that, they will revise the form,’ echoed another Twitter user.
‘So you respect everyone’s decision when it comes to vaccinations but not about how Obama identifies on the census and in society. Huh, got it,’ one social user slammed.
Some users applauded the anchor, included one who wrote: ‘You are absolutely spot on Sage! Thank You for not putting your principles in your pocket like so many of the ESPN and Disney executives and decision makers do! God Bless You Girl!’
‘Keep spreading the TRUTH @sagesteele @JayHasTweets!!! We’re possibly going to set the record for most deaths in a month from COVID soon, even tho it’s 18 months in & despite all the vaccinations, so we need to make sure Conservatives stay UNvaxxed. GREAT plan, patriots! #BeBest,’ wrote another.
Steele has since been placed on a break and is expected to return to full duty at ESPN next week.
She will not take part in the network’s espnW summit, which focuses on women in sports.
ESPN issued a statement to Variety in response to her break saying: ‘At ESPN, we embrace different points of view — dialogue and discussion makes this place great.
‘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.’