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Sage Steele appeared on The Megyn Kelly Show Thursday in her first interview since settling a lawsuit with ESPN and parent company Disney for violating Steele’s right to free speech.
For the first time in 16 years, Steele is no longer an ESPN employee. For the first time in 16 years, an employer cannot retaliate against Steele for voicing an opinion that runs afoul of the preferred narrative.
The decision to sue ESPN/Disney emanates from an incident in September 2021 when the company suspended Steele for expressing her opposition to vaccine mandates during a podcast with Jay Cutler.
She had not spoken about the nearly two-year-old matter, other than in an apology ESPN pressured her to release, until Thursday with Kelly:
“That day I literally had just come from the stupid grocery store pharmacy to get the shot. I’ve been asked a couple times even recently, ‘Was that [Band-Aid] a prop to stir the pot and to get them to ask you.’ No, I literally was late taking the shot because I sat in my car crying saying I cannot believe I’m gonna go against what I believe is right, and my morals and values and what I believed being forced with my body to keep my job, but I knew I had no choice. I am a mother of three. I’m a single mother of three, their father is here and he’s a wonderful father, but I’m 100% the breadwinner. I knew that I had no choice.
“And I sat in that car and I was disgusted with myself for caving. I went in the grocery store and I sat down and the nurse looked at me she’s like, ‘Are you okay?’ And I said, No, I’m not okay. I’m being forced to do this and I don’t believe it’s right. Not yet. Give it a year see what more they learn. This is still experimental. Like just give me time before I have to but it’s my body.’ And the nurse looked at me and grabbed my hand and said, ‘This is so wrong. And I’m sorry.’…I’ll never forget that moment… I changed at that moment. When that shot went here. So no, I didn’t leave the Band-Aid on for a prop. I forgot it was there. And I just literally sprinted in and set up this laptop in my bedroom upstairs and turn on Zoom and we did it. It’s all it was. It wasn’t intentional, but I was obviously emotional. And I’ll say this too: that morning I had been praying about it and I asked God for a sign.”
Steele received backlash for telling Cutler she disagreed with the idea that employers could force employees to receive an experimental vaccine (one that proved to be more of a gene therapeutic). As did she for answering questions honestly about being bi-racial.
“If they make you choose a race [on the U.S. Census], what are you gonna put? Well, both,” Steele told Cutler.
“Barack Obama chose black, and he’s biracial … congratulations to the President, that’s his thing. I think that’s fascinating considering his black dad is nowhere to be found but his white mom and grandma raised him, but OK. You do you. I’m gonna do me. Listen, I’m pretty sure my white mom was there when I was born. And my white family loves me as much as my black family.”
Steele also addressed that “controversy” with Kelly:
“Barack Obama wrote a book about his black father not being there. This is not breaking news. First can I thank you Megyn, because of the thousands of times that the controversial clip of Obama [that comment by me] has run, you are the first person who has ever played the entire thing with the context, which happens to matter, about The View. This would not have come up. Barbara Walters. Sherri Shepherd, Whoopi Goldberg, Jenny McCarthy… Whoopi ended up being quite nice about it after – which is a story for the book when Barbara Walters tried to tackle me in the green room, but it’s fine. Barbara Walters is the one that went nuts and asked me about it live on TV. This was back in 2014. I said almost the exact same thing in 2014 live on ABC, which happens to be owned also by Disney. But seven years later, what I said apparently is not okay.
“Granted it’s a year and a half after George Floyd, times have changed, but the facts remain the same. So once again, and I’ve said this a million times…I’m pretty sure that my white mom was there when I was born. So you’re damn right I’m going to identify as white as well as black. I am so blessed to be loved equally by my white family as well as my black family. And if anything, people talk about how much I hate myself and I must hate my black father and my black family and I’m racist and I’m a sellout and I’m a coon and I’m all the most negative words that you can think of which it’s amazing because most of the hatred comes from people who look like me. It’s okay because it’s been my whole life, which is why this so sensitive.
“But I refuse to be quiet about this anymore. And by the way, no matter what I said, I have that right to feel the way I feel based on my experience. I’m not talking about statistics…This is my story. I can feel how I want about my upbringing. And I am so proud of my family and to tell me that it’s not okay to have an opinion is wrong. And the thing is, whenever I have talked about being biracial and it has been controversial…I’ve had people wait in line for an hour, young biracial kids say, ‘Thank you because I get forced to choose.’ And it’s interesting because you’re only pushed to choose one side. If I had said, ‘I’m a black woman. Don’t call me biracial,’ I would have been celebrated…The good thing is, I don’t care anymore, because this is my experience and if I allow others to continue to take things away from me, then that’s on me. And I refuse.”
Steele loves her white mother and black father equally and doesn’t want to use the Black Card as a cheat code, like Obama and her former ESPN colleague Malika Andrews.
Later in the interview, Kelly asked Steele about her breaking point, the moment in which she decided to risk her career and fight back against her own employer.
“All I ever wanted was consistency. And if we are allowing my peers to go on social media, much less on our own airwaves, saying things that are anything that have nothing to do with sports that are political, that are not true, ut often because the parental rights bill in Florida is not what many people claim that it is. Most people apparently didn’t take the time to read it. Then I should be allowed on my personal time to give my opinion on my experiences personally, without telling others what to do…I think that’s just what breaks my heart. That there were different rules for me than everyone else,” Steele responded.
“They started to take responsibilities away from you, while at the same time forcing you to apologize…Did they make you do that Sage, and how did that feel?” asked Kelly.
“I did not want to apologize. I fought. I fought and I begged and I screamed, and I was told that if I want to keep my job, I have to apologize. And I need my job. I loved my job.”
On a lighter note, Steele and Kelly discussed former media personality Keith Olbermann, who now shouts outside his lonely apartment full of cats:
“Here’s the good news though, even though you were getting the frosty reception from the women. I know you had the pleasure of working with delightful men like Keith Olbermann. So I’m sure it was really warm and fuzzy on that side,” Kelly joked to Steele.
“I was doing the 6pm Sports Center for three years, I think. Probably my least favorite role in a job when I was there, but I was doing that show…So when my co-host was out, Keith Olbermann had been brought back for I don’t know, the third time at ESPN. And he was living in New York City of course, and Keith has a lot of dogs, and loves his dogs. I love my dog too. Sometimes when he would fill in though, he decided that he didn’t want to leave his dogs, they couldn’t come to Bristol. So I was asked to go to New York to do the show in that studio instead so Keith could be with his dogs,” Steele said, not so jokingly.
We stand corrected. Olbermann has an apartment full of cats and dogs. But most certainly not a girlfriend.
“He’s a total prick,” Kelly concluded of Olbermann.
The media has written about Steele’s time at ESPN for about two years. You can watch the full interview here and see for yourself how accurately or inaccurately it portrayed her.
At OutKick, we stand by what we said of Steele following the news that she had settled her lawsuit: she won.
The financial details of the settlement are secondary. A dollar figure was never going to determine the success of her lawsuit.
As I wrote Tuesday, Steele didn’t sue her employer for money. She sued her employer for those like her. For her colleagues who self-censor. For her three teenage children who will soon enter the workforce.
Steele sued her employer for you. For those like you. For those across the country afraid to speak out while those around them shout.
Above all, Steele’s lawsuit informed Disney and companies alike that employees are not powerless. That there are consequences of applying punishment disproportionately on the basis of a company-wide political bias.
At ESPN, Sage Steele was among the silenced. She is no longer.