ESPN anchor sues network, alleges retaliation over vaccine comments

by Samantha Flom

Photo: Adobe Stock

ESPN anchor Sage Steele is reportedly suing the network and parent company Disney for alleged retaliation and free speech violations, the New York Post reports.

Filed in Connecticut, the lawsuit alleges that ESPN retaliated against the “SportsCenter” anchor for comments she made about the company’s Covid-19 vaccine mandate on the “Uncut with Jay Cutler” podcast last September. The retaliation, the suit claims, came in the form of a forced apology, brief suspension, lost assignments, and ESPN’s failure to stop Steele’s colleagues from “bullying and harassing” her.

According to The Post, on Jay Cutler’s podcast, Steele said: “I respect everyone’s decision, I really do, but to mandate (the vaccine policy) is sick and it’s scary to me in many ways. I just, I’m not surprised it got to this point, especially with Disney, I mean a global company like that.”

Per Independent Journal Review, Steele, who is biracial, also questioned Barack Obama’s decision to identify as black, stating that she thought it was “fascinating considering his Black dad is nowhere to be found but his White mom and grandma raised him.”

Steele’s lawsuit, according to IJR, further claims that ESPN did not do its due diligence in investigating the anchor’s comments. Therefore, according to the lawsuit, ESPN violated Steele’s First Amendment rights by selectively enforcing a policy that “bars new personnel from taking positions on political or social issues.”

“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,” the outlet reported Steele’s attorney, Bryan Freedman, to have said.

In response to the suit, an ESPN spokesperson told the Washington Examiner that “Sage remains a valued contributor on some of ESPN’s highest profile content, including the recent Masters telecasts and anchoring our noon ‘SportsCenter,’” and added that the anchor was never officially suspended.

In early October, however, the Examiner notes that Steele was markedly absent from the air, resulting in media reports that she had been suspended, and the anchor’s lawsuit alleges that she was told she was being “sidelined.” 

Further, following her return, Steele claims she lost opportunities at work. Now, with this lawsuit, the Examiner reports that the anchor is seeking compensatory damages. 

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