Sage Steele departs ESPN after settling lawsuit over vaccine comments

Steele was pulled off air for 10 days in 2021 after comments she made criticizing ESPN's COVID-19 vaccination policy.
ESPN host Sage Steele.
Posted at 3:26 PM, Aug 15, 2023

ESPN and long-time host Sage Steele have settled a lawsuit she filed in response to being disciplined over comments she made about the company's COVID-19 vaccine requirement.

Steele made the announcement on social media Tuesday, adding that she was leaving the Connecticut-based company for which she has worked since 2007.

"Having successfully settled my case with ESPN/Disney, I have decided to leave so I can exercise my first amendment rights more freely," she said on X, the social media site formerly known as Twitter. "I am grateful for so many wonderful experiences over the past 16 years and am excited for my next chapter!"

Steele was pulled off air for 10 days in October 2021 after she made comments on a podcast criticizing the company's COVID-19 vaccination policy. She was also removed from some of her prime assignments, including coverage of the New York City Marathon, the Rose Parade, and the 12th annual ESPNW Summit.

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On the podcast hosted by former NFL quarterback Jay Cutler, Steele had said she thought the corporate mandate was "sick" and "scary to [her] in many ways." She also told Cutler that she had complied with the requirement so she could "keep her job and support her family," according to the lawsuit, which was filed in May 2022. 

Steele's lawyers alleged that ESPN had violated her first amendment rights by reprimanding her for comments she made as a private citizen on her day off. The lawsuit states ESPN also forced her to give a public apology, subjecting her to scrutiny by coworkers and the media. 

"Steele has suffered significant damages as a direct and proximate result of ESPN and Disney's adverse actions against her," the lawsuit states. "Her reputation and professional prospects have been damaged beyond repair, likely costing her professional opportunities for years if not decades in the future." 

In June, ESPN offered to settle the lawsuit for $501,000, including attorney's fees and court costs. The terms of the settlement announced Tuesday were not immediately made public.