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Former ESPN Sportscaster Speaks Out

Will Dawson


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“I am the poster child for what happens when you’re true to yourself at times. And you know what? I’m okay with it now.” Sage Steele is one of the most respected broadcasters in sports. On August 15th this year, she walked away from a 16-year-career at ESPN. More on that soon. For Sage, sports isn’t just a career; it is a way of life.

Will Dawson: "Tell me about this one. You and your dad golfing…"

Sage: "You know, I don't know how I'm not an incredible golfer after this setup. This is in Monterey, California, probably 1978. I mean, he always was so athletic, and I remember him exercising and staying super active. And that's why, us kids are as well. But I love this. I'm so focused. And I did. I always wanted him to, you know. . ."

Will Dawson: "You wanted his support."

Sage Steele: "Oh my gosh and I got it!"

Gary Steele was a legendary two-sport athlete at West Point starring in track and field and football, where he became the first African American to ever play for the Black Knights. His daughter is as impressed with his humility as his athletic accolades.

“I learned about how he was recruited and how he was choosing in the mid-sixties between West Point, which was in its heyday back then, and Penn State and Joe Paterno, a wonderful, great coach during that era. And I was like, ‘Joe Paterno recruited you dad?' I was like, 'you know, I wanted to be a sportscaster since I was a little kid. Why haven't you told me these things about about you?’ And he just never wanted it to be about him."

As a pioneer, Gary is familiar with racism. However, none was as personal as the rejection from his future in-laws.

"My parents have been married for 52 years. But when I think about how it began and how my mother in particular, had to choose between the man she loved and her family . . . so her strength I'm in awe of. And that is why when I have my stuff, I think back to that and to my parents and the love that they have, obviously from day one. And that's strength and that's toughness.”

Sage’s “army brat” upbringing afforded her a unique and broad view on life.

Will Dawson: "It must give you a very interesting perspective on race, culture, and people."

Sage: "Yes, yes! Black, white, Asian. It didn't matter. It was a beautiful upbringing."

In 1995, she graduated from Indiana University and began a sports broadcasting career in various markets around the country.

Will Dawson: "We see a lot of women in sports broadcasting now. But when you started, you were on the front end of that."

Sage: "What it did was it made me feel like I needed to be extra prepared. So being different made me good at that very early in my career. And so I'm very grateful for being uncomfortable because it made me better at my job. And I think in hindsight that they saw that I did my homework and came prepared with thoughtful questions and then I owned it."

In 2007, Sage was hired by ESPN and quickly became a prominent figure in sports broadcasting, hosting ESPN’s flagship show, SportsCenter. In 2021, Sage appeared on a podcast and expressed conservative opinions on a variety of topics including, the covid vaccine, sexuality, and race. She was promptly suspended by ESPN.

Will Dawson: "How disappointed were you or heartbroken were you then when you found out that you had been suspended?"

Sage: "I was devastated. I felt like I had disappointed people. Just by being me though."

During her suspension, Sage contracted a bad case of COVID.

“I got up to take a quick shower and this was like three in the morning. And I, I fell over and I realized that if I fall in the shower and hit my head, no one will find me because I was alone. So I decided to not take a shower and not go to the hospital. And so I just got back in bed and I just prayed that I'd wake up and that my heart would stop racing. And I'll just never forget that time being stuck in bed and reading some of the things that were being said and never feeling so alone in my life, ever. I woke up the next day, thank God, and I just was like, at that point trying to stay off my phone because the hate was pretty real. The negativity.”

The negativity she received online was in the form of threats, to her life and to her family.

“I'll be honest and say that it hit me quite hard. And there were times when I was in tears over what was said when there were death threats and people threatened to rape my daughters. But my faith had gotten me through the prior couple of years and I knew that because I woke up that morning, God had a plan for me. So that helped me just keep pushing and to stop checking my phone and stop.”

Will Dawson: "In Matthew 5:44 Jesus talks about praying for your enemies and forgiving those who persecute you. You have some bracelets on your wrist that talk about Grace." 

Sage: "I really do try to pray for those who have been not-so-nice. The word “grace” has been everything to me. I can look down at these bracelets and I get this peace about me. And I literally know that I am not alone. God has proven that to me a million times over. Even when I was not paying attention. But I know He has been with me this entire process."

Sage’s two-year legal battle with ESPN ended in August. She says her future is in God’s hands and is telling her story in hopes of helping others.

“All I've ever wanted is conversation. I love to talk way too much, and I've enjoyed that to. That's why I've loved this profession, is to be able to talk and to get to know people.”

Will Dawson: "Sage when I talk to you, what I see is a very relatable person who is just like me or just like anybody else who has been prepared in various steps throughout her life…for this.”

Sage: "Yeah. Everybody's got something. And despite the facades that sometimes we intentionally put out there or inadvertently everybody is a human being first with pain and struggles. And I want to share mine and hope that will make others feel more comfortable sharing theirs."

(To check out the bracelets Sage referrs to, please click here: My Saint My Hero)

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Will Dawson is a Senior Producer for The 700 Club.