Sports anchor Sage Steele is off the air at ESPN after she called vaccine mandates "sick" and "scary" and questioned why former President Barack Obama identifies as Black even though he was raised by his white mother.
In a statement, the network said: "At ESPN, we embrace different points of view - dialogue and discussion makes this place great. That said, we expect that those points of view be expressed respectfully, in a manner consistent with our values, and in line with our internal policies. We are having direct conversations with Sage and those conversations will remain private."
ESPN also shared a statement from Steele. "I know my recent comments created controversy for the company, and I apologize," she said. "We are in the midst of an extremely challenging time that impacts all of us, and it's more critical than ever that we communicate constructively and thoughtfully."
Steele opined on vaccine mandates, Obama and women journalists
A week ago on the podcast, Steele told Cutler, a former NFL quarterback, that she had just gotten her COVID-19 vaccine after being required to by Disney, which owns ESPN.
"I respect everyone's decision. I really do. But to mandate it is sick, and it's scary to me in many ways," she said. "But I have a job, a job that I love and, frankly, a job that I need."
The COVID-19 vaccine has been shown to greatly reduce the risk of hospitalization and death in people who are infected with the coronavirus.
On the subject of race, Steele said she thought it was "fascinating" that Obama identified himself as Black on the U.S. census "considering his Black dad was nowhere to be found but his white mom and grandma raised him."
Steele also said young female journalists bear some responsibility for preventing any harassment they may face in the male-dominated world of professional sports.
"When you dress like that, I'm not saying you deserve the gross comments, but you know what you're doing when you're putting that outfit on, too," she said.
Supporters and critics respond to Steele's comments
In a tweet, Cutler linked to a story about Steele getting pulled off the air after appearing on his podcast and called it "ridiculous."
Carron J. Phillips, a senior writer for Deadspin, noted a contrast between how ESPN treated Steele and how it responded when former anchor Jemele Hill called then-President Donald Trump a "white supremacist," characterizing the company's responses as "sooooooo different."
After Hill's comments drew scrutiny in 2017, the sports network issued a statement saying: "The comments on Twitter from Jemele Hill regarding the President do not represent the position of ESPN. We have addressed this with Jemele and she recognizes her actions were inappropriate."
Hill, in a tweet this week, said Steele's remarks on Obama and up-and-coming female sports reporters amounted to "clown behavior."