Why Sage Steele Really Left Her Hosting Gig At ESPN

In August 2023, longtime "SportsCenter" host Sage Steele announced that she was parting ways with ESPN, the network that employed her for the past 16 years. It came as a shock to some, as the media veteran was open about deeming ESPN her"dream job" in the past.

In an interview with Refinery29, she opened up about vying for a job in the sports TV ever since she was a kid. "I knew I'd never be a good enough athlete to do anything past high school, sadly," she said. Steele was in college when she saw how Robin Roberts thrived at ESPN, and that's how she knew she could make it behind the cameras someday. "I worshipped her," she admitted. True enough, in 2007, after working a string of broadcasting-related jobs, she finally got her in at the network. She would be part of "SportsCenter" for over a decade, engaging in fast-paced interviews, side-eyeing co-hosts who didn't respect her, and occasionally finding herself in hot water for her rather controversial opinions. At one point, she drew ire when she questioned why former President Barack Obama identified as black, criticized Colin Kaepernick for kneeling, and refused to discuss the Charlottesville attack on air.

Steele's polarizing opinions on some of the nation's pressing issues put her in the hot seat more than a handful of times throughout her career, and it looks like her bluntness was also why she left the network she used to love.

Sage Steele claims ESPN 'silenced' her

When Stage Steele officially left ESPN, she took to Twitter to announce the news: "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!" It appears that it was an amicable decision, with the network sharing in a statement that they have "mutually agreed to part ways," perĀ NBC News.

The case in question was Steele's lawsuit against her former network in April 2022, when she sued them for supposedly sidelining her over her comments about the company's COVID-19 vaccine mandate during an appearance on the "Uncut with Jay Cutler" podcast. "I work for a company that mandates it, and I had until September 30th to get it done, or I'm out," she said at the time."I respect everyone's decision, I really do, but to mandate it is sick, and it's scary to me in many ways." While she apologized for her remarks, she later sued the network anyway, claiming that she was forced to issue the apology and was subsequently slapped with a suspension, per NPR.

After settling the case and exiting the network, Steele said in an interview with Fox News host Jesse Watters that she felt her right to free speech was compromised. "I wasn't the only one who felt silenced," she asserted. "The biggest blessing for me is that I've finally learned to be okay not being liked, even if they're for reasons that I think are stupid."

What's next for Sage Steele?

So what is the "next chapter" Sage Steele was talking about? As of this writing, there's no word as to what projects the veteran anchor will be involved in next, but some fans think she will be heading over to Fox. Meanwhile, her former colleague, "First Take" host Stephen A. Smith, defended Sage in his podcast, saying that ESPN shouldn't have tried to "silence" her, but he also understands why the company had to protect its interests. "If I say something and it ultimately costs ESPN dollars, and as a result, ESPN says, 'You got to go,' they're not saying I have to go because of my politics. They're saying I have to go because I compromised their bottom line," he noted.

Wherever Steele ends up going, you can probably expect that she would continue to speak her mind. "When you're a public figure and you choose to make a choice to express yourself, things come with that. People are gonna take what they wanna take from what you say and what you do and at some point, you've got to let go of that. Or just don't talk," she shared in her Refinery29 interview, adding that she learned how to pay zero attention to her detractors. "It is so cool and such a relief to finally be able to say, 'I don't care.' It's just taken a long time. Say what you want about me. Bring it, I'm good now... know I'm right."