NEW YORK — A roller coaster year for Sage Steele will land on a positive note for the longtime ESPN anchor.
Starting on Aug. 28, she’ll become the host of SportsCenter AM Monday through Thursday after her work on NBA Countdown, SportsCenter on the Road and at countless live events.
The move comes months after she was replaced on Countdown and after she had been criticized for social media posts sharing her opinions of Buccaneers receiver Mike Evans sitting during the national anthem and travel ban protests at LAX causing problems for fliers trying to get to their flights.
Steele sat down with For The Win for an extensive conversation about her new role, what she’s been through and how her outlook is after some of the online backlash.
It’s crazy right now. I will admit that to you because of that logistical side of moving your family 3,000 miles across the country. But I know it’s going to be worth it. I’ve really missed Bristol. I know everyone says, “Yeah, right.” But I’ve missed it because of the people and the last couple of days on campus and seeing familiar faces, it’s been like reunion central. And I’ve missed the camaraderie and teamwork of being on a show every day. It sounds cheesy, but maybe after 22 years in the business, that’s what it comes down to is the people, and that’s why I know this is going to work, is that it’s the right people who make it not about them.
Basically, here’s an example: Mondays during NFL season, we’ll show you every single highlight from Sunday. That doesn’t necessarily happen on every network. And then we’ll preview what’s happening on Monday. There will be more reaction, ownership from our analysts. Our thing is, okay Herm Edwards, okay Tim Hasselbeck, what do you want to talk about? They love to hear that. And I trust those guys to tell us what’s important. But also, conversation between the three of us hosts too. It’s not about us, but our opinions will come out here and there.
My goal in everything I’ve done on TV has been to kind of forget that the camera is there. You have a conversation and if you need to interrupt me, go for it. That’s how conversations go. But most importantly, what do you need to know about this highlight or story? What does it mean tomorrow when they play the next team?
My personal thing is we probably fall back on that, “Oh they’ve probably seen that” too much. There’s a reason why people are still watching out network, there’s a reason why so many regional networks have popped up. People want their highlights. We’re going to tell the whole story or the main story, and that’s harder to get on your phone. Then you back it up with more information. Tim Legler is one of the best analysts in any sport that we have, and his insight is something you’re not necessarily going to get when you go to his Twitter page. It’s on another level. They might have seen a little bit but they haven’t seen the full story of the game. I’m on social media, I love it, I depend on it. But I know if I want to go next level with it, I have to watch.
I’ve learned that I’m a lot tougher than I thought. It’s actually strengthened me and encouraged me to continue to be me and never let anyone dictate that for me. There are some sickos out there who must be very, very bored, but I’ve learned that I can handle it. If you want to hate me because I talked about my experiences, things I wish hadn’t happened, then that’s on you.
But I also had so many awesome things come from the negativity. I have people come up to me crying, bi-racial, young kids, teenagers, adults, saying, “You’re speaking for me. Thank you.” And so I know that when you’re being honest and it’s about my experience, no one can tell me I’m wrong, because it happened. If I allowed those people to tear me down or affect my job, that’s on me. I won’t let anyone take this passion away from me. I set out to do this when I was 12 years old, this was my dream. So you want to find reasons to hate, go ahead, but I have many more important things in my life. Social media is also a huge tool. I’m not going to shy away from it because there’s some negativity out there. I’m 44 years old, I have more important things in my life.
The one Facebook message I wrote was 40-plus years and coming. I didn’t realize how much it bothered me until I wrote it. It was 2AM and I was sobbing as I wrote it because I realized how much it has affected me my whole life, to be judged because “I’m not black enough for this, I’m not white enough for this, I’m a sellout,” I can’t. I had internalized it. To put it on paper was cathartic and then it was scary when I knew what was going to happen when I pushed send. That just affirmed to me we’ve got a really long way to go in this country, all races, all of us. If I have to be the guinea pig and put stuff out there and be honest about things that are scary to talk about, fine, I’ll take the job.
I talk about my experiences. I had been out at Arlington national cemetery when Mike Evans said what he said and did what he did. My grandfather is buried there. I have a different perspective than most. As I said, all for your rights, but I think there are other ways. That was my experience, my experience at LAX was different than how people portrayed it, but that’s because they want to find something and so again, my goal isn’t to start stuff, these are my experiences and that’s okay if people don’t like it or agree with it. If we’re all preaching diversity and acceptance, it’s not just skin color and gender, it’s about diversity of thought, and I think that’s pretty important.
I just believe to each his own. I don’t talk about politics. I never talked about politics. My parents never once told me who they voted for, because it was very private. I’m pretty sure people aren’t watching me on SportsCenter because of my political standings whether they agree or not. I’m a sportscaster and I’m not comfortable doing it, it’s not what I’m about. For me, I think ESPN for the most part is an escape from every other news network. If things cross over – Colin Kaepernick — darn right we’re going to talk about it. We’ll do it responsibly. Once again, everyone I think is allowed to have an opinion.
I get it, I certainly do. People say there are more issues than football and we bring light to it because of the eyes that come to NFL Sundays and Mondays, then I get that. But, listen, Colin did what he felt was right, other people are doing what they feel is right for them and that’s fine. You have to be ready for what comes with it. That’s not why people are tuning in to watch me, it’s not my job.