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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

ESPN Offers Sage Steele $501K to Settle Lawsuit

  • The 'SportsCenter' anchor claimed in lawsuit filed in April 2022 that ESPN violated her free-speech rights.
  • Steele alleged she was suspended for comments about the network's COVID-19 vaccine mandate.
Sage Steele
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

ESPN has offered Sage Steele $501,000 and to cover “reasonable” attorney fees to settle the “SportsCenter” anchor’s lawsuit filed in the aftermath of her comments about the network’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate.

Steele sued ESPN and parent company Walt Disney Co. in April 2022 over allegations her First Amendment and Connecticut’s free-speech rights were violated. 

In the Connecticut state court filing last week, lawyers for ESPN and Disney wrote that the offer should “not be construed as an admission that defendants are liable for any of the claims asserted in this action, or that plaintiff has suffered any damage as a result of any of those claims.”

While mediation remains ongoing, Steele’s attorney said in a statement to Front Office Sports and other outlets that they won’t be accepting this settlement offer.

“Disney and ESPN clearly admit their liability by offering to pay Sage Steele more than half a million dollars for taking away her right to free speech,” Bryan Freedman, Steele’s attorney, said. “The offer misses the point. Disney cannot purchase their employee’s constitutional rights no matter how powerful they think they are.

“How about apologizing and treating people fairly? Let me put it this way, would Disney be willing to accept money from the state of Florida and Governor DeSantis in exchange for being silenced? Why the double standard?”

The trial is scheduled to begin in March 2024. 

In the lawsuit, Steele alleged she was retaliated against after the comments she made on former NFL quarterback Jay Cutler’s podcast in September 2021. During the podcast, Steele called Disney’s vaccine mandate “sick and scary.”

Steele also drew criticisms for questioning why former President Barack Obama identified as Black in the U.S. Census during the same appearance. 

Steele claimed she was suspended by ESPN for two days, and “was forced to issue” under threat of termination. ESPN denied that Steele was suspended.

The half-million-dollar offer comes as ESPN has looked to reduce costs, which has led the network to part ways with several recognizable names in recent weeks from Neil Everett to Rob Ninkovich to Chris Chelios

The departure of other notable talent is expected in the coming days.

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