Sage Steele is leaving ESPN after she settled her lawsuit against the company.
The longtime "SportsCenter" anchor sued ESPN in 2022 after she claimed her employer violated her right to free speech when she questioned the COVID-19 vaccine. Steele announced her decision to move on after 16 years with a brief post on social media.
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!#SteeleStrong
— Sage Steele (@sagesteele) August 15, 2023
Steele joined "SportsCenter" in 2007 before she also became the host of ESPN's "NBA Countdown" from 2013 to 2017.
The heart of Steele's lawsuit stemmed from ESPN's decision to suspend her with pay in 2021 after she called the company's COVID-19 vaccine mandate "sick" during Jay Cutler's podcast, "Uncut with Jay Cutler." On that same podcast, Steele was critical of former President Barack Obama and said female reporters share the blame when athletes make inappropriate comments toward them.
Steele also claimed ESPN forced her to apologize, took assignments away from her as retaliation and didn't stop her colleagues from harassing her.
The lawsuit alleged ESPN "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," according to The Wall Street Journal. Steele sought unspecified damages.
ESPN attempted to have the lawsuit dismissed two months after Steele filed it and claimed that “removing Steele from broadcasts, allowing her co-workers to forgo appearing with her, and allegedly conditioning her return to those broadcasts on her issuing an apology are casting decisions that are considered conduct furthering ESPN’s protected expression."
The company continued to employ Steele throughout the lawsuit and she appeared on "SportsCenter" as well as ESPN's coverage of the Masters golf tournament and the PGA Championship.