CNA Newsroom, Sep 18, 2023 / 12:15 pm (CNA).
After former ESPN "SportsCenter" co-host Sage Steele settled a lawsuit with the network over comments she made regarding its COVID-19 vaccine mandate, she announced her departure in August after 16 years at the network.
"Having successfully settled my case with ESPN/Disney, I have decided to leave so I can exercise my First Amendment rights more freely," the former sports anchor wrote on her X account.
Steele sued the network and its parent company in 2022 for violating her free speech rights after she was taken off the air and several high-profile assignments for criticizing ESPN's and Disney's vaccine mandate, the Associated Press reported.
Although Steele complied with the mandate in order to keep her job, according to her lawsuit, she told former NFL quarterback Jay Cutler on his podcast that "while she 'respect[ed] everyone's decision' to get vaccinated, she believed that a corporate mandate was 'sick' and 'scary to me in many ways.' She also indicated that she 'didn't want to' get the vaccine but still complied in order to keep her job and support her family."
Following these and other comments on Cutler's September 2021 podcast, Steele was suspended from ESPN in October 2021 and forced to apologize for her remarks.
Steele recently opened up about the ordeal and about how her Catholic faith got her through it on "EWTN News Nightly," hosted by Tracy Sabol.
"I've said this a lot recently — I wouldn't be standing today without my faith, which has become stronger than ever before," Steele, 50, began.
"This was a huge low point in my life when all of this happened," she continued. "[The] last couple years I had just gotten divorced after marrying my college sweetheart — only boyfriend I ever had, married for 20 years, together for 27 years. … COVID hit like a couple months right after that was final."
To add to the problems, many things were shut down due to the pandemic, and it was a difficult time for Steele and her three children.
"It was brutal," Steele recalled. "And then I happened to speak up [about the vaccine mandate] and got crushed for it. [I] thought my career was over."
To top it off, despite having received the vaccine, the single mother came down with severe COVID. "I was in trouble health-wise with it," she told Sabol. "At that moment, I just prayed."
One night during the illness her heart was racing so fast it woke her up. She was all alone — her kids were at their father's house so they wouldn't get sick. Her parents couldn't help because her father was undergoing cancer treatments. She tried to get ready to drive herself to the hospital but fell over. She realized if she fell again and hit her head, no one would find her.
"That was such a scary moment," she said. "I just got back in bed and prayed and prayed that I would wake up the next morning."
She did wake up, but she was still alone, and it took her more than a week to finally start feeling better.
"All I had was God," she recalled. "Fortunately, I knew that he had brought me through so much … what am I going to do, not trust him now? So I literally felt him pull me up and say, 'You got this, girl.'"
When she was finally well enough to return to work, her father — a former football player — mother, and best friend were there with her.
"Right as I walk out the door to go to work for the first time after the apology and being suspended and embarrassed and vilified, my dad said, 'We're gonna say the St. Michael the Archangel [prayer] … you know, having God protect us from the wickedness and snares of the devil and rebuke them we humbly pray… that moment changed me and changed our family," she said.
Now that Steele has left ESPN, Sabol asked what the future might hold for the broadcaster.
"I don't know, but I'm having some really fun conversations right now with all kinds of different people that work in the industry in different ways," she said. "I would love to interview some Hollywood celebrities, a lot of people who have been canceled and it's like, 'Oh wait we're still here.'"
Steele said she hoped to announce more of her plans in the coming weeks.
"I've been so flattered by so many people reaching out, but it's a blessing to be able to finally be me," she said.
Watch the full "EWTN News Nightly" interview with Steele below. Watch part one of her interview with Sabol here.