Timing is everything.
And yet again, Sage Steele has picked the incorrect time to be on the wrong side of history. Unfortunately for her, I have all the time in the world to address why her time at ESPN should be up. Because given her past, and present, public remarks, I’m sure the folks over at FOX News would welcome her with open arms.
In a recent report from the Wall Street Journal, Steele alleges that two of her fellow Black colleagues, Michael Eaves and Elle Duncan, worked to keep her from taking part in a special that took place last month, called Time for Change: We Won’t Be Defeated. The show was hosted by SportsCenter anchors Jay Harris, Duncan, and Eaves, along with Maria Taylor, as they led a conversation that “explored Black athletes’ experiences with injustice.”
According to the report, Steele believes that Duncan and Eaves told management that she “wouldn’t be accepted by what they considered the Black community.” But what she failed to mention is that arguably the two biggest Black voices at ESPN, Stephen A. Smith and Bomani Jones, didn’t participate in the program, either.
“I found it sad for all of us that any human beings should be allowed to define someone’s ‘Blackness,’” Steele told the Wall Street Journal. “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.”
What Steele refuses to understand is that she willfully makes the bed she continues to lie in. Because while Black people fight against the stereotype that we’re a monolithic race, she has, in fact, become a great example of that. However, while Black people can be conservative, Republican, or anything else that challenges the idea that we’re all the same, we also still want to see our people empowered and take issue when they’re being treated unfairly and unjust. That would be a hard argument for anyone to make on Steele’s behalf.
For instance, Jason Whitlock and “Outkick” was the first publication to defend Steele. You know you’ve messed up when that man and that site are the only ones stepping up to bat for you.
“The disappointing part for me seeing a story like this, is that as far as I know, that whenever Sage has been caught up in various controversies I don’t recall any of her Black colleagues going out of their way to amplify those controversies,” Jemele Hill told Deadspin.
“It just seems to me that this was something that if there was an issue, it would be better settled inside the building of ESPN. So for her to insinuate that two people with the great reputations that Michael (Eaves) and Elle (Duncan) have of doing something like this, it’s just very unbecoming.”
According to Hill, when shows like this are put together the hosts aren’t the lone decision makers, as producers and management also have a say.
“To pin it on Elle and Mike as if they made a decision like this in a vacuum, it just seems to be taking an unfair shot at your colleagues for no reason,” Hill explained.
Steele’s low standing with fellow Black professionals in the industry is an open secret, and it’s so bad that a senior producer in the ABC/ESPN family confirmed to Deadspin that they had to “convince panelists to do a Black History Month speaker series that she was recently a part of,” which featured other prominent Black female voices like Maria Taylor, Pam Oliver, and Lisa Salters.
When the WSJ story was first released, it was a Black ESPN employee that informed me. Shortly after, another Black employee of the network called me from their car and was so infuriated that they “almost got into an accident.”
Steele has worn out her welcome, and there are multiple reasons why.
In 2016, months after Colin Kaepernick started kneeling, Steele went after Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ wide receiver Mike Evans for sitting during the anthem.
“Hey @MikeEvans13_ look up definition of the word DEMOCRACY & remember this pic while kneeling/exercising your right to protest #perspective,” she tweeted.
In 2017, Steele found more targets.
In January of that year, she took to Instagram to complain about her flight being delayed due to people protesting Trump’s immigration ban at LAX.
“So THIS is why thousands of us dragged luggage nearly 2 miles to get to LAX, but still missed our flights. Fortunately, a 7 hour wait for the next flight to Houston won’t affect me that much, but my heart sank for the elderly and parents with small children who did their best to walk all that way but had no chance of making their flights. I love witnessing people exercise their right to protest! But it saddened me to see the joy on their faces knowing that they were successful in disrupting so many people’s travel plans. Yes, immigrants were affected by this as well. Brilliant. 🇺🇸”
A month later, she told a crowd in Florida that the “worst racism I see comes from Black people.”
“There are times that I believe that we, as African-Americans, can be hypocritical, and that is to not look ourselves in the mirror when we are saying certain things and blaming other groups for one thing when we are doing the exact same thing,” she said.
By August, Steele had expressed how she didn’t want to hear about Charlottesville on SportsCenter, defended NFL owners for not signing Kaepernick, and told the world why ESPN needed to “stick to sports” — only to publicly accuse her Black colleagues of blackballing her from a program that didn’t “stick to sports” less than three years later.
“I do not look forward to discussing this on SportsCenter, I really don’t,” Steele said then about Kaepernick on The Dan Patrick Show.
And in 2018, as Donald Trump and the White House attacked Hill for correctly labeling the President as a white supremacist, Steele made headlines again when she declared that Hill “put that onto herself of her own volition.”
Steele is also a non-active member of the National Association of Black Journalists’ Sports Task Force, as she rarely attends annual conventions. But due to her job, she is considered a member, according to Task Force Chairman Sherrod Blakely.
As you can see, if Steele isn’t well-liked by her colleagues, she has no one to blame but herself.
The saddest thing about this situation is that in a moment like this, a biracial Black woman used her platform to attack her colleagues, which include a Black woman and a biracial Black man, instead of speaking up about how Breonna Taylor’s killers still haven’t been arrested.
Given everything we know about Sage Steele, and her unwillingness to ever address the important issues that matter to her people, it’s probably best that she wasn’t involved with ESPN’s recent programming on Black athletes’ experiences with race and injustices.
It’s just the latest example of why she needs to go.
And not soon, but right now.