Saturday September 23, 2023
The Best Employers in Sports Survey is Now Open!

Sage Steele Sues ESPN Over Alleged Suspension; Network Denies It

  • Steele claims the network forced her to apologize and temporarily benched her, according to WSJ.
  • ESPN contends that Steele ‘was never suspended.’
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Front Office Sports Today

How Rupert Murdoch Changed Sports Media Forever

As he steps down as chair of Fox and News Corp., we discuss his monumental and ongoing impact.
Listen Now
September 22, 2023 | Podcast
Copy Link
Link Copied
Link Copied

ESPN is contesting the narrative that it temporarily suspended anchor Sage Steele over her alleged criticism of former President Barack Obama and COVID-19 vaccine mandates.

On Wednesday, ESPN was served with a lawsuit that alleged the network and parent Walt Disney Co. violated Steele’s First Amendment rights and Connecticut’s free speech protections in the aftermath of comments she made on former NFL quarterback Jay Cutler’s podcast in September.

Steele alleged in the lawsuit, first reported by The Wall Street Journal, she was suspended two days after recovering from COVID-19 and “under threat of losing her job, was forced to issue” an apology over statements made to Cutler.

In the podcast that was published Sept. 29, Steele described Disney’s vaccine mandate as “sick and scary” and questioned Obama’s choice to identify as Black on the U.S. Census.

“ESPN violated her free speech rights, retaliated against her, reprimanded her, scapegoated her, allowed the media and her peers to excoriate her and forced her to apologize simply because her personal opinions did not align with Disney’s corporate philosophy of the moment,” Bryan Freedman, Steele’s attorney, said in a statement to Front Office Sports. “Sage is standing up to corporate America to ensure employees don’t get their rights trampled on or their opinions silenced.”

While ESPN was served with the lawsuit, it has not yet been filed in a Connecticut court. That’s expected to occur within days.

An ESPN spokesman pointed to Steele’s recent high-profile hosting role on Masters Tournament coverage earlier this month as an indicator she was and is a valued employee.

“Sage remains a valued contributor on some of ESPN’s highest-profile content, including the recent Masters telecasts and anchoring our noon ‘SportsCenter.’ As a point of fact, she was never suspended,” said the ESPN spokesperson.

In the lawsuit obtained by FOS, Steele alleged she only got the Masters assignment after a complaint filed with ESPN’s human resources department and a subsequent letter to the company from her attorney.

“[ESPN] suddenly offered Steele the opportunity to co-host ESPN’s coverage of the Masters Tournament, in a blatant admission of their culpability and prior misconduct and in an attempt to cover up their violation of her rights and to avoid liability,” the lawsuit states.

To work The Masters, the lawsuit claims Steele had “no choice but to get the [COVID-19 vaccine] booster,” a requirement for all employees covering on-site events. She received the booster in the March, although missed the deadline set by ESPN by two days. ESPN gave Steele “a one-time exemption to the booster mandate,” according to the lawsuit.

ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. will miss this week’s NFL Draft and will contribute from home since he’s unvaccinated.

ESPN has suspended other on-air talents over the years, including Bill Simmons, Jemele Hill, Tony Kornhesier and Curt Schilling.

Copy Link
Link Copied
Link Copied

What to Read

Deion Sanders and The Rock

Deion Sanders Reshaping College Football Fanbase With Buffaloes Surge

Deion Sanders has made Colorado "Black America's Team."
Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott is tripped up by New York Jets defensive end Solomon Thomas in the second quarter at AT&T Stadium.

NFL Viewership Sees 2% Increase in First Two Weeks of 2023 Season

The NFL is experiencing its highest viewership since 2018.
Deion Sanders

Colorado's Epic Victory Sets New ESPN Prime Time Viewership Record

Coach Prime Deion Sanders delivered in prime time on ESPN.
Joe Buck and Troy Aikman

'Monday Night Football' Returns To ABC Amid Entertainment Breakdown

ABC will simulcast 15 regular season "Monday Night Football" games.
podcast thumbnail mobile
Front Office Sports Today

How Rupert Murdoch Changed Sports Media Forever


Featured Today

Deion Sanders with The Rock on ESPN's "College GameDay."

Deion Sanders Generated $45M In Earned Media For Colorado

From Sept.1-22, Sanders generated $45.7M for the public university.
September 23, 2023

Up Next For College Football Playoffs: More Change, Money, And ... Streaming?

Many changes are coming to the CFP when it expands to 12 teams.
September 22, 2023

Warriors Stake Reportedly Up For Sale at $7B Valuation

A 10% stake in the franchise could cost $700 million.
September 22, 2023

Jaguars Threaten Move Without $1B From Jacksonville Taxpayers

The Jagaurs are hoping to renovate TIAA Bank Field for $2 billion.


Powered By

Careers in Sports

Looking for a new job? Check out these featured listings and search for openings all over the world.
Chicago Cubs
New York
Tri Star Sports and Entertainment Group, Inc.
USA - Multiple Locations
NBC will reportedly pay $287 million annually across five years to air broadcast on USA Network.

NBC Inks WWE SmackDown Rights for Reported $1.4 Billion

The reported rights fee is about 40% higher than SmackDown's Fox deal.
September 20, 2023

Can Amazon Keep Up NFL Viewership Boost After Record Week 1?

The San Francisco 49ers and New York Giants face off on Thursday night.
September 19, 2023

WBD Pursues ‘Different’ Strategy For Sports on Max

Company to place all of its live sports on new streaming tier
September 15, 2023

DSG Looks To Use NHL Kings Deal As Reorganization Model

Agreement arrives as bankrupt RSN operator nears deadline for reorganization plan
September 14, 2023

Netflix Fatigue May Be Hitting Sports Docuseries

Netflix cameras won't have full access at the Ryder Cup.
September 14, 2023

NBA Cracks Down On Player Rest Ahead of Multi-Billion Dollar Rights Talks

NBA rest days will be regulated as league prepares for rights talks.
Coc Gauff
September 13, 2023

Coco Gauff Powers ESPN to Record Viewership for Women's Final

The American’s first major win garnered more viewers than the men's final.
Aaron Rodgers
September 13, 2023

Aaron Rodgers' Brief Appearance Helps Set MNF Record

Aaron Rodgers helped "Monday Night Football" draw its biggest audience.