Veteran ESPN host Sage Steele is off the air this week after criticizing the Walt Disney Co. unit’s vaccination policy on a podcast.
Steele, who manages the midday edition of “SportsCenter,” appeared in a September 29 episode of “Uncut with Jay Cutler,” hosted by the former NFL quarterback, where she called the warrants vaccination of “sick” and “frightening”.
Steele also asked why former President Barack Obama identified as black when his mother was white and his father was not part of his upbringing.
After Steele’s remarks were reported by Front Office Sports, ESPN pulled Steele from the air. Steele, who recently tested positive for COVID-19, will be back next week, according to a network representative.
“At ESPN, we take different points of view – dialogue and discussion make this place great,” an ESPN representative said in a statement. “We expect these views to be expressed with respect, in a manner consistent with our views and in accordance with our internal policies. We have direct conversations with Sage and these conversations will be kept private. “
Steele, who joined ESPN in 2007, issued a statement apologizing for his remarks.
“We are in the midst of an extremely difficult time that affects us all, and it is more important than ever that we communicate in a constructive and thoughtful manner,” said Steele.
Steele told Cutler she received her COVID-19 vaccine on September 29, a day before the deadline set by Disney policy, after resisting it for a long time.
“I didn’t want to do it, but I work for a company that requires it and I had until September 30 or I was away,” Steele said.
“I respect everyone’s decision, really, but to mandate him is sick and scares me in many ways,” she added. “I don’t know what comes next, but I know for myself personally, I feel like [I’m] defeated.”
Steele brought up Obama in a discussion with Cutler about how she insists on being identified as mixed race rather than black.
“I’m like, ‘Well, congratulations to the president.’ That’s his thing. I think it’s fascinating considering that his black father was nowhere to be found, but his white mother and grandmother raised him. But hey, it’s you. Steele said.
Steele, who comes from a military family, is known to occasionally express conservative views and promote “diversity of thought.” During the podcast, Cutler called Steele “ESPN’s Candace Owens,” in reference to the black author and right-wing commentator who frequently appears on Fox News.
Steele said she “respects the shit” of Owens for voicing her opinion in the face of the backlash from progressives in the black community. But she added that the comparison was “funny” because “we have nothing in common in the way we deal with social media.”
Steele’s remarks follow a major controversy at ESPN earlier this year, after a July 6 report in the New York Times revealed a private call in 2020 between NBA network analyst Rachel Nichols and an associate. Nichols, who is white, was overheard complaining that ESPN chose Maria Taylor, who is black, over her to host a 2020 NBA Playoffs pre-game show because of Taylor’s run .
The call came as Nichols was working inside the Walt Disney World ‘bubble’ in Orlando, Florida – where the NBA held its playoffs last year during the COVID-19 pandemic – and captured via a corporate video link in his hotel room. Taylor joined NBC Sports on July 21 after being unable to strike a new deal with ESPN.