Videos by OutKick
Sage Steele won.
We make that declaration today not knowing the financial details of her settlement with ESPN and parent company Disney, which she announced Tuesday on X:
“Life update. Having successfully settled my case with ESPN/Disney, I have decided to leave so I can exercise my first amendment rights more freely. I am grateful for so many wonderful experiences over the past 16 years and am excited for my next chapter!”Sage Steele
The dollar figure of the settlement is secondary. A dollar figure was never going to determine the success of the settlement. In fact, the lawsuit never included a dollar figure.
Sage Steele did not sue ESPN/Disney to get rich. Quite the opposite.
ESPN paid Steele $3 million a year. As a bi-racial woman at ESPN, she could have earned that or similar for the next decade.
Were money her motive, all she had to do was stay silent, keep her conservative opinions to herself, do as Disney commands, and not sue her employer.
Instead, she risked the security of future seven to eight-figure contracts, a cushy job on television, and a presence on the top sports network in the industry. Financially speaking, Steele’s lawsuit was not wise.
But she filed it anyway, knowing that the end result, whatever it would be, would lead to her eventual departure from ESPN. Steele knew the lawsuit would force her to worry about her career, her future, and her income for the first time in 16 years.
The decision to challenge the most powerful media company in the nation, in what was perceived as a longshot proposition, emanates from an incident in the fall of 2021.
Two years ago, Steele, like many working Americans, received a command from her employer to inject an experimental vaccine into her bloodstream on the basis that it might shield her against Covid.
Yet, in her case, she expressed her opposition on a podcast with former NFL quarterback Jay Cutler. Steele called the idea of vaccine coercion “sick” and “scary to me in many ways.”
During the same podcast, she answered a question about filling out the U.S. Census. Steele, like Barack Obama, has a white mother and a black father. And therefore she disagrees with the notion she should identify as one of the other:
“If they make you choose a race, what are you gonna put? Well, both,” said Steele.
“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.”
The podcast revealed that Steele believes employees should make their own medical decisions and that bi-racial Americans should not have to identify as either black or white. Yet those exact, benign comments ran afoul of the industry in which she works.
Her comments drew the ire of former ESPN hosts like Jemele Hill, Cari Champion, and Keith Olbermann; cable news hosts like Tiffany Cross; and, even her colleagues like Sarah Spain.
ESPN responded to the backlash by suspending Steele, removing her from the Rose Bowl, releasing a statement condemning her comments, and demanding she issue an apology.
Specifically, the network punished her for violating its so-called “ban on discussing politics,” a policy her liberal co-workers frequently and recklessly violate without repercussion. Here are just some of the many examples.
The list of examples proves ESPN did not punish Steele for broaching the topic of the vaccine, race, or Obama. Rather, the company punished her for voicing an opinion from the lens of a moderate conservative woman.
ESPN has already punished her for being that a year prior when it removed her from a social justice special because host Elle Duncan — Creepy Elle Duncan, that is — argued to her bosses that Steele’s “blackness” was in question. The network’s mostly white bosses appeared to agree, that Steele’s “blackness” would not suffice.
Since 2020, Steele has become an avatar of the outcast employee, the employee whose opinions are shared by the masses but frowned upon internally. Perhaps you have been in a similar situation. Perhaps you are in that situation today.
And that is why Sage Steele sued her employer.
As we argued earlier this summer, Sage Steele’s lawsuit was worth more than money.
Steele sought to uncover the politically-motivated hypocrisy that lies within the workplace. And she did.
Disney admitted liability in settling with Steele over taking away her right to free speech. Disney admitted its wrongdoing in June when it tried to buy her silence for more than half a million dollars, which she declined.
Moreover, Steele exposed Disney for suing Gov. DeSantis for retaliation after it punished her in retaliation.
“How about apologizing and treating people fairly?” said her lawyer in an email to the press.
“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?”
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.
Steele sent a warning to the executive wing of corporate America. She sent hope to the muzzled wing of the working class. Both messages were heard.
The value of un-silencing the silenced is priceless.
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.
And for that, Sage Steele won.
Recent columns from Bobby Burack: