ESPN anchor Sage Steele is suing her employer after she criticized the network's COVID-19 vaccine mandate and scrutinized former President Barack Obama calling himself Black. The SportsCenter host accused the of company retaliating against her and violating her free speech rights in a lawsuit first reported by the Wall Street Journal.
The 49-year-old anchor host made the controversial remarks during a podcast hosted by former NFL quarterback Jay Cutler last September, where she called ESPN's vaccine mandate "sick." Steele, who is biracial, also questioned Obama's race:
"If they make you choose a race, what are you gonna put? Well, both," she said at the time. "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 was temporarily suspended from the network and issued an apology after she faced swift backlash. The lawsuit alleges ESPN took her comments out of context and forced her to make a public apology.
"I know my recent comments created controversy for the company, and I apologize," the anchor wrote at the time. "We are in the midst of an extremely challenging time that impacts all of us, and it's more critical than ever that we communicate constructively and thoughtfully."
Now, Steele is seeking unspecified damages from ESPN. The sports media giant sent the Journal a statement Wednesday about the matter:
"Sage remains a valued contributor on some of ESPN’s highest-profile content, including the recent Masters telecasts and anchoring our noon SportsCenter."