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ESPN Anchor Criticized for Comments About COVID, Obama, Sexual Harassment

Sage Steele pulled from the air for one week following controversial statements on the podcast Uncut with Jay Cutler.

On the Sep. 29 episode of the Uncut with Jay Cutler podcast, SportsCenter anchor Sage Steele made statements that resulted in her removal from programming for a week. She will also no longer host this year’s espnW: Women + Sports Summit, which will take place from Oct 18 to 20 in La Jolla, California.

When Cutler, a former NFL player, asked her about getting the COVID-19 vaccine that day, Steele replied, “I didn’t want to do it, but I work for a company that mandates it.” She later said, "I respect everyone's decision. I really do. But to mandate it is sick, and it's scary to me in many ways."

Disney, the owner of ESPN, mandates COVID-19 vaccines, as do other companies such as Google, Uber, and Facebook. Steele got her vaccination after the company announced its mandate.

Steele, who is biracial but referred to herself as both biracial and Black on the podcast, called it “fascinating” that former President Barack Obama chose to identify as Black on the U.S. census, “considering his Black dad was nowhere to be found but his white mom and grandma raised him.”

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The anchor also made statements that seemed contrary to current social movements, stating that women bore some of the responsibility for how they are treated in the workplace. “When you dress like that, I'm not saying you deserve the gross comments, but you know what you're doing when you're putting that outfit on, too,” Steele told Cutler. She also discussed harassment she experienced early in her sports journalism career. “I don’t think people were malicious. They were just being stupid guys in the locker room. So I would laugh it off.”

In response to Steele’s comments on the podcast, her employer issued a statement saying: “At ESPN, we embrace different points of view — dialogue and discussion makes this place great. 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. We are having direct conversations with Sage and those conversations will remain private.”

In a statement to CNN, Steele said, “I know my recent comments created controversy for [ESPN], and I apologize. 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.”

Cutler tweeted that ESPN’s decision was “ridiculous.”

Steele stated during the podcast that working at ESPN had been her dream since she was 11. The 48-year-old has been with the sports channel for 15 years.