“Sage has done a wonderful job for us in a number of important roles.” Those were the words of John Skipper, President of ESPN, in reference to on-air personality Sage Steele. Skipper was compelled to give a statement to USA Today Sports following rampant speculation that Steele had been demoted from her high profile job. “Sage definitively has a bright and long-term future at ESPN and my complete support, said the network boss.
The reason for this public outreach was not due to any questionable act by Steele, but instead a series of notable and possibly interconnected events. At the heart was the announcement that Steele would no longer have a seat on the pregame show NBA Countdown and that she was being replaced by Michelle Beadle. No specifics given behind the decision, and there was no recognizable issue that sparked the change.
What made the move more curious was the release this week of a new set of social standards ESPN issued to its on-air personalities. These were guidelines specifically concerning acceptable political content and the proper times to bring up subjects on air and social media. The network has been recognized as harboring a growing leftist narrative for the past few years which has been suspected as a reason for a ratings erosion.
What has built up significant theorizing on this move is that Sage Steele is recognized as a right-of-center voice at the network. This past football season, when many mouthpieces were lending support to NFL players who were kneeling during the national anthem, Sage tweeted after Mike Evans, of the Buccaneers, chastising his demonstration.
In January Steele came under fire for an InstaGram post she made about her travels being impacted by Trump protesters. She and other travelers had to walk with luggage for over a mile due to roads being blocked, and thus she vented. There was a social media blowback because that is the way our country is now set up; people who express their political opinion need to be praised, but those expressing a differing opinion are out of line.
For balance, however, let’s look to Michelle Beadle, the woman replacing Steele. Her Twitter timeline is filled with political cant, and most of it is boldly in the anti-Trump category. She had a series of tweets commenting on Trump’s speech to Congress, repeatedly referring to politicians clapping as a group of monkeys. In another post she wrote, “Had a dream that a clown car emptied into a big white mansion. They failed civics tests & then started yelling at everyone to do their jobs. It is rather telling Beadle, rather than incurring wrath for being for more acerbically outspoken, receives a promotion.
The curiosity of the Steele move is the timing, given the NBA season is just finishing and the playoffs are imminent — hardly the moment you expect drastic changes with your on-air talent like this. While no particular infraction is cited for her being dispatched the network continues to show a preference for one type of political discourse.
It is a fair question to ask if this climate may be due to the fact ESPN is owned by Disney. The liberal tolerance could be traced to the top. CEO Bob Iger has indicated there is a possibility of running for President in 2020. This could be a level of bias that runs from the very top down.
It would possibly explain how blatantly leftist commentary is tolerated at the network, while conservative opinions may find personalities dispatched to lesser positions.