INTERVIEW: Former ESPN Anchor Sage Steele Talks Getting Canceled After Vax Comments, Surge Of Support & Launch Of Her New Show
LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - FEBRUARY 09: Sage MSteele attends 'Shaq's Fun House' at XS nightclub at Encore Las Vegas on February 09, 2024 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Greg Doherty/Getty Images)
Greg Doherty/Getty Images

The following is an edited transcript of an interview between Daily Wire Editor-in-Chief and Morning Wire co-host John Bickley and former ESPN SportsCenter anchor Sage Steele on her battle with the network over vaccine mandates and her plans for the future. Listen to the full interview here.

JOHN: Joining us now to discuss her journey from ESPN SportsCenter anchor to “canceled” to now host of her own show is Sage Steele. Sage, thank you so much for joining us.

SAGE: Thank you for having me.

JOHN: You’ve now launched “The Sage Steele Show,” which we’d like to ask you about, but let’s start with you parting ways with Disney and ESPN. For those who haven’t tracked that sequence of events, can you tell us exactly what happened there?

SAGE: That’s a big, long answer. It was almost a two year process to be honest with you. I was on a podcast on a day off, giving my opinions and views on my own experiences and things that were happening at that time. That was in September or October of 2021. I was suspended for it, punished, silenced, and assignments were taken away from me and I was told that if I didn’t apologize publicly, I would lose my job.

Listen, there were years and years leading up to the point where I spoke differently from others. I didn’t follow the same narrative. I decided to stand up only because of the hypocrisy I saw on the other side where all of my peers were able to go on the network whenever they wanted and say what they wanted [because it was the accepted narrative], even if it had nothing to do with sports on ESPN platforms. And of course, I’d lived a lot of it behind the scenes.

Then, once you’re punished, at some point you have a decision to make. For me, I knew that it was enough. I also knew it was bigger than me, and that’s kind of what was happening throughout society in America — where if you don’t follow a certain narrative, then you’re silenced and punished and canceled. Also, once you get canceled so many times, it’s easier to say, “Wait a minute.” So I took a stand and did something I never thought I’d do, which is file a lawsuit against the company that I loved and ended up working for, for almost 17 years. It broke my heart, but I know it was the right thing because it’s truly about standing up for yourself and others and for freedom of speech.

JOHN: Now, vaccines played a central role in your split with ESPN, correct? Can you explain that for us?

SAGE: Yes. So at Disney, of course ESPN is owned by Disney, we were required to be fully vaccinated by September 30, 2021. I waited until literally the very last day. I was devastated about it and didn’t agree with being forced. There’s a difference between the vaccine and the vaccine mandate. I had an issue with the mandate because I wasn’t comfortable with the vaccine yet. I just wanted more time for more research to be done. I’d done my homework and I think the average is six to nine years for the FDA to approve a vaccine. And this was shoved out there pretty quickly as we know. It became super political on both sides and I just didn’t feel comfortable with doing it.

So, I actually went onto that podcast that day directly from getting the shot. I was pretty emotional, probably, and was running a little bit hot, but I was pretty measured with my comments. And I basically said, “Listen, I just don’t agree that anyone should be forced to do something to their body. I think it’s sick and scary for any company to do that, but I love my job. I need my job, and I complied in order to keep my job.” And that’s what I said.

Since then I’ve obviously thought so much about it. If I had said the opposite — if I had said, “Listen, all these anti-vaxxers are being quite selfish, they don’t care about their neighbors or their coworkers or their families, just get it” — I would have been celebrated. The other comments I made about race and being biracial and people telling me I should identify as black, even though I’m black and white, if I had said the other idea, I feel like I would have been celebrated. That’s where the hypocrisy was and that’s why I stood up.

JOHN: I should note for disclosure purposes — and also because it proved very consequential — that The Daily Wire sued the federal government over its vaccine mandate for big companies. We put ourselves at severe risk by doing so, but we won that lawsuit. And it’s something that we felt like we had to do. Your story certainly resonates with that move.

SAGE: Can I hug you for that? Because it’s been people like you and groups like yours who stand up — it just meant the world to me. And I have to say, doing it alone — and I’m a single mother of three kids, high school and college age kids — it’s not cheap to stand up. It’s scary when you’re on your own and you’re financially responsible for everybody. Along with throwing away the career that I loved, as I was told I was doing. But sometimes it’s bigger than us. And so people like you made me feel not quite as alone. It’s amazing what happens when you do take a stand and step out — how many thousands, millions of people — you realize you’re so not alone. There’s such fear and we just can’t lead with that fear anymore.

JOHN: About that, how have you seen people embrace you? And what’s this next phase in your career?

SAGE: I cannot tell you how excited I am about what’s next. Being able to have true, deep, genuine conversations, kind of a talk show format, but not an interview, it’s more of a conversation. There’s a huge difference. I’m all about freedom of speech and diversity of thought; that’s what I lead with. Anyone who knows me will back that up. That’s why, when Bill Maher offered me a job while I was on his Club Random podcast, I thought he was joking. And then he did it again. Of all people, Bill Maher is someone with whom I see things completely differently. I’m definitely more conservative; he is definitely far Left. He doesn’t believe in marriage and kids; he’s an atheist and thinks it’s all crazy. And I’m the opposite in every single category. I love that we can sit and talk. Most importantly, he saw where my heart is, which is to truly be accepting of everyone and welcome diverse thoughts. And to give me a show to do that? It’s so much bigger than me. This is about trying to show America that this can exist: We can lead with kindness and be strong in our beliefs. It’s a beautiful thing that Bill Maher saw this controversial conservative, former ESPN star and said, “No, no, no, I’m going to give her a shot, even though I completely feel differently about huge important issues in our country.” I think it’s a win for everybody and I’m so honored.

JOHN: During the COVID pandemic, we saw censorship on a level I don’t think we’ve ever seen before, at least not in recent decades. Do you feel like there’s progress being made, or are we still under this heavy-handed censorship complex?

SAGE: I think there is. Obviously you do this every single day and pay super close attention to it. I’m probably a step back from you, but watching it in a different way as a journalist now, my journalism career is changing and evolving. I feel like there’s progress and to me the biggest reason for it is Elon Musk. I’m so grateful for him taking that huge chance. I don’t care how many billions of dollars you have, that is a risk he has taken. It’s been fascinating to watch him, what he tweets and what he says. I think it gives the majority of America hope because I truly believe that most Americans think like we do — like we don’t all have to believe the same things, but you must be respectful of everyone’s opinion and their right to have it. So, because of Elon Musk, it is changing.

I have seen and read about so many other people taking stands. It’s fascinating to learn what’s going on with Google and all the suppression over the last 12 years with the election process. That stuff’s being exposed. I feel like on the old Twitter, now X, that we would never have been able to hear about that, not as quickly and efficiently and accurately. So, to me, there is progress and we have to continue. I believe there’s a groundswell for people like us who just want all things available for us to review and allow us to make our own decisions. That’s what had been taken away and people didn’t realize it. Now it’s being exposed and that’s the win.

That’s what I want to talk about on my show with a variety of guests. Yes, some will be athletes, but also people in Hollywood, some politicians, actors, all the above, because I think we probably have a lot more in common than we believe. It doesn’t all have to be political. I want to hear their “whys” and most importantly though, when it all hits the fan, how do they push through? How do they push through those adverse moments in their lives despite making it all look perfect on TV or on the internet? What I have found is most people believe like us, but they’re fearful — fearful in Hollywood in particular to speak their truth. So, I hope and pray that I can make people comfortable — comfortable enough to do that. And then, when people open up and speak openly, I think everybody wins and others realize, “Hey, I’m not alone and we’re right to stand up and speak our own truths. It doesn’t have to fit a certain narrative.”

JOHN: As you mentioned, Bill Maher is far-left on many issues. Is he putting any restrictions on your topics for your show?

SAGE: Zero. Nothing. It’s beautiful. I’m so not used to this world. I’m like, “Wait, what?” I’m waiting for someone from the Disney offices in Burbank to reach up and cut me off. It’s just a whole new world. Bill and I agree on some of the core issues. That’s what we found out in that podcast I did with him on Club Random — about immigration, he thinks it’s completely out of control; about transgender, the transgender sports, women’s sports issue, out of control and ridiculous and scary; and of course the vaccine, vaccine mandates, nuts. So those are three core issues that have obviously been so divisive. But again, when you look at my stance on things, how I feel about things based on myself and being a mother and not having a certain platform, and then you look at Bill Maher with his massive platform and his very Left-leaning liberal approach to pretty much everything in life. But it’s a great lesson, that when we are respectful, when we talk and lead with kindness, we realize we actually have a lot more in common. And he’s like, “Go girl. Say what you want, ask what you want, do what you want.” There’s a trust there already, and it’s something I’m so grateful for because I’m not used to that.

JOHN: Final question before you go: What have you been surprised by and what are you looking most forward to in this next phase?

SAGE: Well, thank you. I was just so shocked and honored that someone on “the other side of the aisle” saw the need for more conversation, and for Bill Maher to believe that I could be the one. I’ve never been given that kind of platform before. But it’s not about me or Bill; it’s about what has to happen. It does take courage though, right? For someone like Bill to say, “Oh, I’m going to go right into these waters and give a voice to someone with whom I feel so differently.” Kudos to him for seeing the big picture beyond what he believes. I am so excited to have these conversations and make them continue. Because if we don’t do this – I’m not trying to be dramatic – I believe we lose America and I do believe it’s now or never. So here we go with Club Random and Bill and me and a whole bunch of other guests. I hope you guys take a chance and listen.

JOHN: We certainly will. Sage, thank you so much for joining us. We’d love to talk to you again.

SAGE: I would love to. I listen to y’all every morning. So thank you.

JOHN: That’s certainly nice to hear. Thanks again for coming on.

SAGE: Thank you. God bless.

Listen to the full Morning Wire interview here.

Already have an account?

Got a tip worth investigating?

Your information could be the missing piece to an important story. Submit your tip today and make a difference.

Submit Tip
Download Daily Wire Plus

Don't miss anything

Download our App

Stay up-to-date on the latest
news, podcasts, and more.

Download on the app storeGet it on Google Play
The Daily Wire   >  Read   >  INTERVIEW: Former ESPN Anchor Sage Steele Talks Getting Canceled After Vax Comments, Surge Of Support & Launch Of Her New Show