ESPN host Sage Steele is exiting the channel after settling her lawsuit with the sports media giant.
“ESPN and Sage Steele have mutually agreed to part ways. We thank her for her many contributions over the years,” an ESPN spokesperson told The Hollywood Reporter.
“Having successfully settled my case with ESPN/Disney, I have decided to leave so I can exercise my first amendment rights more freely,” Steele shared on X/Twitter. “I am grateful for so many wonderful experiences over the past 16 years and am excited for my next chapter!”
Terms of the settlement were not disclosed.
Steele, an anchor on SportsCenter and a former host of NBA Countdown, sued ESPN and its owner The Walt Disney Co. last year for allegedly violating her free speech rights in retaliation for widely criticized comments she made on a podcast regarding the company’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate and for comments about former President Barack Obama.
On the podcast hosted by former NFL quarterback Jay Cutler, Steele called vaccine mandates “sick” and “scary to me in many ways.”
She also discussed Obama identifying as Black in the U.S. Census: “I’m like, ‘Well, congratulations to the president.’ That’s his thing. I think that’s fascinating considering his Black dad was nowhere to be found, but his white mom and grandma raised him, but hey, you do you. I’m going to do me.”
Steele argued in her suit that ESPN selectively enforced its policy on news personnel commenting on political or social issues.
“ESPN’s inconsistency in how it treated Steele as compared to her peers demonstrates that Steele was punished not only for exercising her constitutional right to free speech but because of the content of that speech,” the complaint filed in Connecticut state court said. “Steele was disciplined by her employer in violation of Connecticut state law because she exercised her First Amendment right to express opinions with which ESPN and Disney do not agree.”
Disney has faced a number of lawsuits over its vaccine mandate (a policy that was embraced by most major employers as well as the U.S. government). Rockmond Dunbar, a former cast member on 911, sued the company last year on a number of grounds, including alleging that he was terminated for refusing the vaccine.
And General Hospital star Ingo Rademacher sued ABC for firing him, claiming that it was because he refused to get vaccinated.