Sports | July 22, 2020 10:20 am

ESPN’s Sage Steele Claims Black Colleagues Kept Her from Race Special

The special, “The Undefeated Presents Time for Change: We Won’t Be Defeated,” aired June 24

ESPN's Sage Steele Claims Black Colleagues Kept Her From Race Special
Sage Steele moderates the Women in Leadership panel at the. 2018 espnW Summit. (Meg Oliphant/Getty)
Getty Images

When ESPN aired a special about race, The Undefeated Presents Time for Change: We Won’t Be Defeated, on June 24, Black network anchor Sage Steele was not a part of it.

Steele, who hosts the 6 p.m. edition of the network’s flagship show SportsCenter, told management she was excluded from the special by certain Black colleagues because they didn’t consider her “to be an authentic voice for the Black community,” a person familiar with the matter told The Wall Street Journal. 

According to the publication, Steele said the show’s organizer Michael Fountain was considering her until two other on-air personalities, Elle Duncan and Michael Eaves, complained and said Steele “wouldn’t be accepted by what they considered the Black community.”

In the past, Steele has faced criticism for not supporting NFL players kneeling during the national anthem and having a frosty relationship with outspoken Trump critic Jemele Hill, the woman she replaced on SportsCenter in 2018.

“I found it sad for all of us that any human being should be allowed to define someone’s ‘Blackness,’” Steele said in a statement. “Growing up biracial in America with a Black father and a white mother, I have felt the inequities that many, if not all Black and biracial people have felt—being called a monkey, the ‘n’ word, having ape sounds made as I walked by—words and actions that all of us know sting forever. Most importantly, trying to define who is and isn’t Black enough goes against everything we are fighting for in this country, and only creates more of a divide.”

A 1995 graduate of Indiana University, Steele joined ESPN in 2007 and served as a regular anchor of SportsCenter until 2013.

Though they did not directly respond to Steele’s allegations, Duncan and Eaves said they wished “we had more than an hour to include more of the many strong voices we have at ESPN; however, we are hopeful that this doesn’t distract from the important message conveyed that night.”

This is the second time in 10 days issues of race within ESPN have drawn scrutiny, as a recent New York Times piece asserted that Black employees within the company feel not enough has been done to promote minority executives and talent.

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