Technically, she wasn’t fired.
At least not as of today, ESPN hasn’t fired Sage Steele; they’ve only replaced her with Michelle Beadle on “NBA Countdown,” which includes coverage that goes all the way to the NBA Finals. It has been reported that due to the shift of audiences in large numbers gathering their sports news digitally, the subscriptions for the network have dropped by the millions; therefore, forcing the network to cut its budget by a speculated $250M. The last time the Disney company made large budget cuts was in 2015 when Keith Olbermann and Bill Simmons were laid off, but that was only for $100M. This speculated number is obviously much higher, which hints inevitably well-known on-air personalities will be cut or reduced to roles so small everyday viewers forget they’re still with the network.
Steele is probably one of the easier cuts for the network to make, given all of the recent political discussion she’s brought upon herself through social media. On April 4, ESPN even announced new company policies in terms of its employees voicing their opinions on politics.
“The fact subsequent political and social discussions often intersected with the sports world, we found it to be an appropriate time to review our guidelines,” ESPN’s vice president of global digital content and the chairman of the company’s internal Editorial Board Patrick Stiegman said.
Steele made headlines after Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans decided to join the protest that San Francisco 49ers quarterback Collin Kaepernick popularized last NFL season by taking a knee during the national anthem. Evans said he protested the anthem because Donald Trump was elected as the President of the United States. The protest happened to take place on Veteran’s Day weekend and Steele, being the daughter of a veteran, posted a lengthy Instagram caption criticizing Evans for not recognizing the democracy the military has fought for.
The second time in recent months that Steele’s opinions were in the headlines was the weekend of the nationwide “Muslim Ban” airport protests. Steele posted a picture of a crowded airport she was in, showing the protesters blocking the gates for passengers. Her caption complained that the protestors were “disrupting so many people’s travel plans.”
The third and most recent time Steele’s political views made headlines was not from one of her posts on social media; it was actually on the show Beadle’s replaced her on. After Golden State Warriors guard Andre Iguodala answered multiple questions using slave references last month, Steele gave her opinion on the situation and the use of the n-word. She said that Black people have to stop using the word to advance in society.
“$110 million. I’m not sure how many slaves were paid that back in the day; that’s just my opinion,” Steele said to the end the segment.
Budget cuts and layoffs are tough, but if this move and the new company policy is any indicator, controversy makes the decisions that much easier. Because like Dana Jacobson, Collin Cowherd, and Curt Schilling proved in the past, ESPN wants its reporters to bring the news and not be the news.