Speaking out about controversial subjects can be personally fulfilling. But it can also be costly professionally. ESPN television host Sage Steele has learned that firsthand after the network announced that she was being demoted from NBA Countdown on ABC and ESPN and replaced on a full time basis by Michelle Beadle.
Going forward, Beadle will lead the company’s NBA pre-game and halftime shows, including for the NBA Finals on ABC. She will also host ESPN’s and ABC’s studio coverage throughout the NBA Playoffs, which includes exclusive coverage of the Western Conference Finals. Beadle will host the remaining regular-season editions of NBA Countdown on ESPN and ABC, and remain installed as the co-host of SportsNation too.
What that means for Steele is that she’ll be reassigned to SportsCenter on the Road duties, which will include contributing to coverage of The Masters, the NBA Playoffs and the NBA Finals. Those appearances though will take place on SportsCenter, not NBA Countdown, the show she had been hosting since the 2013-14 season.
With ESPN under pressure to trim budgets and reduce on-air talent, Steele’s demotion raises a few eyebrows. She came under fire in February for speaking at a conference and stating that the worst racism she’s encountered has been from black people. She also earned the scorn of multiple ESPN members after posting a photo on Instagram at the Los Angeles International Airport where she took issue with people who were protesting President Trump’s executive order that sought to suspend travel from seven Muslim majority countries.
As Disney CEO Bob Iger continues to claim that the network doesn’t have any political bias, it seems peculiar that someone outspoken like Steele, who shares and expresses different beliefs, would be removed from a high profile program like NBA Countdown right before its most important time of the season.
Steele isn’t in danger of being let go though. She signed a multi-year contract with ESPN in September 2016 and ESPN President John Skipper says he remains a strong supporter of her work.
During a conversation with The Wrap, Skipper said “Sage has done a wonderful job for us in a number of important roles. As previously announced, her ‘SportsCenter’ presence has grown and this week alone she has led our coverage from the men’s Final Four and the Masters. She definitively has a bright and long-term future at ESPN and my complete support.”