The current mess involving ESPN and SportsCenter host Sage Steele just got a whole lot messier.
Sage Steele, who joined ESPN back in 2007, sued the network in April for violating her free speech rights, according to Bobby Burack of OutKick. She claims ESPN prevented her from making appearances in scheduled events and even reworked her SportsCenter schedule because she criticized the company’s vaccine mandate policy and the way that former president Barak Obama discusses his racial identity.
“I think that’s fascinating considering [Obama’s] black dad was nowhere to be found but his white mom and grandma raised him,” she mused on Jay Cutler’s podcast late last year. “But, hey, you do you. I’m going to do me.”
After these and other comments, Steele alleges that ESPN retaliated against her and failed to protect her from targeted harassment from coworkers.
Now, ESPN is doing its darndest to sidestep the accusations and the lawsuit.
According to the motion to dismiss filed on behalf of ESPN, “Removing Steele from broadcasts, allowing her co-workers to forgo appearing with her, and allegedly conditioning her return to those broadcasts on her issuing an apology are casting decisions that are considered conduct furthering ESPN’s protected expression.”
In other words, in its filing, ESPN admits that it has done exactly as Steele alleges. The network just claims that it had every right to do so to “protect” its “expression.”
The filing further confirms Steele’s claim that ESPN NFL analyst Ryan Clark refused to appear on set with her because of her views but that “not intervening in personality conflicts did not amount to the company disciplining Steele,” according to the Washington Post.
ESPN also argues in the filing that Steele has not been harmed by its “casting decisions” because she has not lost any pay as a result. Though her scheduled appearance with the V Foundation and her interview with Halle Berry were both recently canceled, ESPN claims that the V Foundation and Ms. Berry’s public relations team initiated the cancellation because of her so-called controversial views.
Despite the obviously hostile relationship between Steele and ESPN executives and colleagues, Steele remains an ESPN employee and her contract with the network doesn’t expire until 2024. The office break room might be rather awkward at times, but at $3 million a year, at least Steele is well compensated for it.