Sage Steele leaves ESPN after settling her lawsuit over COVID-19 vaccine comments
(AP) – ESPN and host Sage Steele have settled a lawsuit she filed after being disciplined for comments she made about the company’s policy requiring employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
Steele posted on social media Tuesday that she is leaving the Bristol, Connecticut-based company, where she has worked since 2007.
“Having successfully settled my case with ESPN/Disney, I have decided to leave so I can exercise my first amendment rights more freely,” she wrote. “I am grateful for so many wonderful experiences over the past 16 years and am excited for my next chapter!”
Steele was taken off the air for 10 days in October 2021 and pulled from several high-profile assignments, including coverage of the New York City Marathon, the Rose Parade, and the annual ESPNW Summit, because she criticized ESPN and The Walt Disney Co.’s requirement that employees be vaccinated against COVID-19, according to her lawsuit, which was filed in May 2022 in Connecticut Superior Court.
She also was required to make a public apology, the lawsuit said.
Steele’s comments critical of ESPN came while she was speaking on a podcast hosted by former NFL quarterback Jay Cutler and just after getting the vaccine herself to comply with the policy, according to her lawsuit.
She said that while she respected everyone’s decision to get vaccinated, she believed that a corporate mandate was “sick” and “scary to me in many ways.” She also indicated that she did not want to get vaccinated but did so to keep her job and support her family, according to the lawsuit.
Steele also said on the podcast that she identifies as biracial and questioned former President Barack Obama’s decision to identify himself as Black on the recent U.S. Census. She also said that female journalists “need to be responsible as well” if inappropriate comments are directed at them based on how they’re dressed.
ESPN “forced Steele to apologize, allowed media to destroy her, and let media reports that she had been suspended go unchallenged, and allowed Steele’s colleagues to defame her in violation of company policy without so much as a reprimand,” her lawyers wrote in the lawsuit.
In June, ESPN offered to settle the lawsuit for just over $500,000 plus attorneys fees and costs.
The terms of the settlement disclosed Tuesday were not immediately made public, and Steele’s attorneys did not immediately return emails seeking comment.
ESPN issued a statement confirming only Steele’s departure from the network.
“ESPN and Sage Steele have mutually agreed to part ways,” spokesman Josh Krulewitz wrote. “We thank her for her many contributions over the years.”
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