ESPN is shaking things up with a change in anchors for it’s daily lineup. Sage Steele, the anchor of the 6 p.m. edition of SportsCenter, is going to be replaced by Elle Duncan, a woman she publicly criticized and that some say she allegedly tried to get fired. The switch, which will start in February 2021, comes after a conversation Steele did with The Wall Street Journal in July. In it, she said Duncan and SportsCenter anchor Michael Eaves intentionally excluded her from a special the network was airing on race during the height of protests this summer because she’s biracial.
In the interview with Steele, she shared that she told network management she believed Duncan and Eaves failed to include her because they didn’t see her as an authentic voice for the Black community. She felt they aimed to minimize her voice on topics of race. For many, this action of going to a major publication to publicize her concerns with ESPN and to lob accusations at fellow journalists who work for the network was seen as a move to potentially get Duncan and Eaves either fired or demoted.
The thing is though, according to sports publication Deadspin, Steele wasn’t the the only Black anchor at ESPN who was left out of the special, or even the most notable. Deadspin reported that Steele was strategic in her interview with the WSJ, “leaving out the fact that arguably the two biggest Black voices at ESPN, Stephen A. Smith and Bomani Jones, didn’t participate in the program, either.” Further, while the special was about ESPN exploring issues of race, Duncan, Eaves, as well as SportsCenter anchor Jay Harris and ESPN sports analyst Maria Taylor only led a conversation where the focus was on Black athletes’ experiences with injustice. With that in mind, as well as Steele’s track record, it would make sense that Duncan and Eaves and anyone else at the network for that matter wouldn’t ask her to be a part of the special.
She has a history of making big things about herself, her wants, and her needs. In this instance, when a special on racial injustices Black athletes have faced was to air, Steele, who is biracial, had to make it about herself saying she felt excluded from the conversation and that her Blackness was being questioned. Perhaps they didn’t include her because she’s used her platform to call out athletes speaking up about such issues. She was the one who publicly said that NFL players kneeling during the National Anthem was disrespectful of veterans who fought and died for this country. She also said ESPN should stick to sports, not covering politics or social unrest.
Not to mention, she struggles to read the room. Earlier this month, in a tweet that many received as insensitive towards those who have been affected by the pandemic firsthand and efforts to minimize the spread of coronavirus, Steele lauded the Big 10 football conference for choosing to resume football games. Programs in the conference dealt with increases in cases afterward. Still, Steele shared a video of Indiana’s football team and coach dancing and wrote, “Thank goodness the @bigten finally did the right thing…reversing its decision and playing after all…making priceless, memorable moments like this possible.” Coming off as tone-deaf to say the least, she made it clear that while hundreds of thousands of people have died of COVID-19 in America, that doesn’t have to affect football.
In 2017, Steele also shared a photo via her Instagram of people protesting Trump’s immigration ban at LAX airport, captioning it, “So THIS is why thousands of us dragged luggage nearly 2 miles to get to LAX, but still missed our flights.” In addition to that she said of protesters, “it saddened me to see the joy on their faces knowing that they were successful in disrupting so many people’s travel plans.” Later that year, she also publicly said, “The worst racism that I have received [as a biracial woman married to white man]… is from Black people” at a faith-based conference in Florida.
Thinking back on this track record of Steele’s and the mission of the special that she felt slighted for not being included in, Steele can’t be a part of addressing the mistreatment of other people because she continues to make herself the number one victim.
The point of this is not to say that her feelings don’t matter, but it is to say that while things in the world keep happening like racial injustice, the global pandemic, or even the travel ban Trump’s administration had put into place, instead of using her voice in a way that could empower everyone, Steele has chosen time and time again to victimize herself, criticize others and emphasize her feelings over everything and everyone else. Doing so led her to take great measures to call out her co-workers about a private matter in public. This time however, those in sports say it has cost her the prime time spot on SportsCenter. She will be moved to a noon slot (and get to periodically do interviews) while Duncan will get her seat at the 6 p.m. hour. Steele’s voice, which has often been a liability for ESPN, will soon be just a little less loud.