ESPN’s Sage Steele off ‘SportsCenter’ after comments about Obama, sexual harassment

Rob Tornoe, The Philadelphia Inquirer (TNS)

Longtime ESPN SportsCenter anchor Sage Steele won’t appear on “SportsCenter” this week and has apologized following a backlash over recent comments she made about former President Barack Obama and female sports reporters who are harassed.

Steele will also no longer appear as a host and moderator of the 2021 espnW: Women + Sports Summit, which is scheduled to take place later this month, according to a source not authorized to speak publicly. She is expected to return to her role as co-anchor of the noon SportsCenter next week.

While appearing on former NFL quarterback Jay Cutler’s most recent podcast, Steele made controversial remarks about ESPN’s vaccine mandate, claimed young women bore responsibility if men sexually harass them, and chided Obama for declaring himself Black on his Census form.

Like Steele, Obama comes from a mixed-race family — Obama’s father was Black, but he was raised by his mother and maternal grandmother, who are white. Steele derided Obama for declaring himself Black, while saying she identifies herself as biracial.

“My Dad wasn’t around when I was younger. I’m still Black,” former ESPN SportsCenter anchor Cari Champion wrote on Twitter in response.

Steele also drew criticism for suggesting young female reporters deserve part of the blame if male colleagues comment inappropriately on how they dress.

Steele’s comments quickly went viral on social media. On Tuesday, ESPN said in a statement it was having conversations with Steele about her remarks, but made clear the tone of her comments was unacceptable.

“At ESPN, we embrace different points of view — dialogue and discussion makes this place great,” the network said in a statement. “That said, we expect that those points of view be expressed respectfully, in a manner consistent with our values, and in line with our internal policies.”

ESPN also forwarded an apology from Steele.

“I know my recent comments created controversy for the company, and I apologize,” Steele said in a statement sent by ESPN. “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.”

Steele joined ESPN in 2007, and has anchored many different versions of SportsCenter, including alongside Temple-grad Kevin Negandhi on the 6 p.m. show. She currently co-anchors the noon SportsCenter with Matt Barrie.

This isn’t the first time Steele’s comments have generated controversy for the network. In 2017, she was criticized by many sports reporters and some colleagues for complaining that a protest of then-President Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration at Los Angeles International Airport caused her to miss a flight.

Steele also drew heat during the 2016 NFL season for criticizing Tampa Bay wide receiver Mike Evans for protesting the national anthem.

In recent years, ESPN has attempted to push a “stick to sports” mentality and has pushed out personalities who have gotten too political with their commentary, including Jemele Hill and Dan Le Batard.