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In late June, ESPN aired a special in primetime entitled The Undefeated Presents Time for Change: We Won’t be Defeated, reflecting on the sports world after the killing of George Floyd. According to a report by Joe Flint of the Wall Street Journal, Sage Steele told ESPN president Jimmy Pitaro that she believes she was frozen out of this special by anchors Elle Duncan and Michael Eaves, and that she felt this was reflective of a divisive work environment.
Per the WSJ story:
Ms. Steele said colleagues told her she was considered for the special by the executive in charge, Michael Fountain, until two of the other on-air personalities involved, Elle Duncan and Michael Eaves, complained, saying Ms. Steele wouldn’t be accepted by what they considered the Black community, according to the person familiar with her account to management.
This wasn’t a story just built around background sourcing. Steele went on the record for it, telling the WSJ in a statement: “I found it sad for all of us that any human being should be allowed to define someone’s ‘Blackness.’ Growing up biracial in America with a Black father and a white mother, I have felt the inequities that many, if not all Black and biracial people have felt—being called a monkey, the ‘n’ word, having ape sounds made as I walked by—words and actions that all of us know sting forever. Most importantly, trying to define who is and isn’t Black enough goes against everything we are fighting for in this country, and only creates more of a divide.”
An ESPN spokesperson denied that Steele wasn’t included in the special due to the complaints of her colleagues. Undefeated editor-in-chief Kevin Merida said that the platform does not have a “litmus test for Blackness” and expressed a desire to work with Steele in the future. Duncan and Eaves provided a joint statement that said they wished the special had more than an hour’s time “to include more of the many strong voices we have at ESPN” but did not directly address the crux of their allegedly freezing Steele out. That they didn’t deny it spoke volumes.
Steele grew up around the military. She has come under fire for positions on social media over the years, including taking issue with all the coverage Colin Kaepernick was receiving and criticizing people who were protesting against Donald Trump’s travel ban for disrupting others’ airport travel logistics. Recently, and this was after the special that she was allegedly frozen out of, she expressed frustration about how little criticism DeSean Jackson received for sharing a Hitler quote on Instagram in comparison to what Drew Brees said about standing for the national anthem.
In my opinion, Steele has been unfairly maligned for expressing her political beliefs and she is right to be speaking up for inclusivity. She deserves a lot of credit for going public in this situation.