According to Sports Illustrated and the Wall Street Journal, ESPN analyst Sage Steele is taking her employer and its parent, Walt Disney Co., to court for what she deemed unjust application of a 2017 company rule concerning what employees are permitted to discuss when it comes to political matters with no relation to sports.
The 49-year-old Indiana University alum appeared on the Uncut with Jay Cutler podcast this past October, and she made some disagreeable statements. The ones who stirred up the most debate concerned the COVID-19 vaccine mandates, women’s choice of attire in the workplace, and President Obama‘s self-identification as Black instead of bi-racial. Cutler even called his guest the “Candace Owens of ESPN,” an observation they both enjoyed.
Steele tested positive for coronavirus right after she visited the podcast, however, and she was required to quarantine herself. At that time, John Ourand of Sports Business Journal reported that Steele would no longer be involved with the espnW Summit that year or with SportsCenter for the remainder of that week. She also happened to issue an apology for her remarks while away from work.
“I know my recent comments created controversy for the company, and I apologize,” she said 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.”
ESPN issued its own statement, saying that although they “embrace different points of view” at the organization, they “expect that those points of view be expressed respectfully” and in compliance with their “internal policies.”
But, per the WSJ, Steele’s current suit alleges the network retaliated by suspending her from her regular slot and the 2021 espnW Summit. Furthermore, it contends that ESPN did not intervene when her co-workers were “bullying” her in light of the affairs, and that the company “violated Connecticut law and Steele’s rights to free speech based upon a faulty understanding of her comments and a nonexistent, unenforced workplace policy that serves as nothing more than pretext.” (ESPN is headquartered in Bristol, Connecticut.)
The issue at hand is that, according to Connecticut State law, employees can exercise their constitutional freedom of speech as long as it doesn’t compromise the quality of their work. Steele asserts that she wasn’t working in an ESPN-related capacity when she made her statements, and the company is misapplying the law to target her based on their own leanings.
For the time being, Steele is still at ESPN and seeking an unspecified amount of damages. However, ESPN has replied to her allegations with the following statement: “Sage remains a valued contributor on some of ESPN’s highest-profile content, including the recent Masters telecasts and anchoring our noon SportsCenter. As a point of fact, she was never suspended.”