ESPN's Sage Steele says colleagues kept her off racial justice special claiming she isn't Black enough

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ESPN anchor Sage Steele claims that her colleagues boxed her out of a network special on race and social justice claiming she isn’t Black enough.

Steele did not appear on “Time for Change: We Won’t Be Defeated,” a June 24 special billed as “exploring Black athletes’ experiences with injustice” in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death while in custody of the Minneapolis police.

SportsCenter anchors Elle Duncan, Michael Eaves and Jay Harris hosted the special alongside college football reporter and NBA studio host host Maria Taylor.

Not an ‘authentic voice for the Black community’

A source told The Wall Street Journal’s Joe Flint that Steele told management she wasn’t invited to participate “because she wasn’t considered by certain Black colleagues to be an authentic voice for the Black community.”

She reportedly told network president Jimmy Pitaro that ESPN “has a divisive work environment” and said that colleagues told her she had been considered for the show until Duncan and Eaves complained.

Steele confirmed the claim in a statement to WSJ.

‘I have felt the inequities’

“I found it sad for all of us that any human beings should be allowed to define someone’s ‘Blackness,’ ” Steele wrote. “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.”

Eaves and Duncan didn’t deny the claim in a statement to WSJ.

“We wish 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,” the joint statement reads.

Sage Steele smiles onstage during an event.
Sage Steele, who has courted controversy with her politics, says her colleagues kept her off an ESPN special on race. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)

An ESPN spokesman denied the report in a statement to WSJ. Kevin Merida, editor in chief of The Undefeated — which presented the show — had this to say to WSJ:

“At The Undefeated, we don’t have litmus tests for Blackness,” Merida said. “ESPN has a tremendous range of Black voices, and we’ve been honored to work with many of them. ... We had already talked to Sage a number of times about working together and look forward to that opportunity.”

Steele’s controversial stances

Steele has courted controversy on several occasions, most notably while complaining about people protesting for social justice.

She criticized Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans in 2016 for his decision to kneel during the national anthem to protest social injustice and police brutality.

In 2017, she complained about her travel plans at LAX being disrupted by people protesting President Donald Trump’s travel ban on people from predominantly Muslim countries.

After the backlash over her travel ban commentary, she said at a Christian forum on race and faith titled “Under our Skin” that Black people had shown her more racism than white people.

“The worst racism that I have received, and I mean thousands and thousands over the years, is from Black people, who in my mind thought would be the most accepting because there has been that experience,” Steele said. “But even as recent as the last couple of weeks, the words that I have had thrown at me I can’t repeat here, and it’s 99 percent from people with my skin color.”

In 2016, Steele cut an interview with Arcade Fire frontman and NBA All-Star Celebrity Game MVP Win Butler short when he mentioned expanding health care and the pending presidential election.

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