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Former ESPN anchor Sage Steele goes to war with CAA in legal dispute

Sage Steele hosts the Players Tailgate at Super Bowl LIV on Feb. 2, 2020
Sage Steele hosts the Players Tailgate at Super Bowl LIV on Feb. 2, 2020.
(Jeff Lewis / AP)
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Former ESPN anchor Sage Steele is accusing her agents at Creative Artists Agency of mishandling her 2021 blowup with the Walt Disney Co.-owned sports network over comments she made about its COVID-19 vaccine policy.

Steele, a one-time “SportsCenter” host, is suing the agency, saying it failed to defend her after she was benched by ESPN after criticizing vaccine mandates on a September 2021 podcast with former NFL quarterback Jay Cutler. Steele told Cutler she was only vaccinated to keep her job and described such mandates as “sick” and “scary.”

Steele, 51, was taken off the air after the comments. The company did not describe it as a suspension at the time. She sued ESPN over the move in 2022, saying its actions, which included a demand to make a public apology, violated her 1st Amendment rights. The suit was settled when she exited the network the following year.

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The lawsuit filed Tuesday against CAA in State Superior Court in Los Angeles claims the agency failed to do an adequate job of representing her during the conflict. Steele’s representatives “placed immense pressure on Steele to issue the apology that ESPN demanded, and they did nothing to push back against ESPN’s decision to discipline Steele by suspending her and removing her from her duties.”

CAA said through its law firm Kendall, Brill & Kelly that the allegations in the suit are a “meritless attempt” by Steele to avoid paying commissions she owes to the agency.

Taylor’s departure follows a damaging story about diversity within ESPN.

July 21, 2021

“CAA’s agents unequivocally acted only in her best interest to help her navigate the controversy she created; yet, now, she denies the agency’s valuable support, skill, and judgment despite having repeatedly expressed her gratitude in numerous written communications throughout that time period,” the firm said in a statement.

Steele says CAA advised her to acquiesce to ESPN’s demand for an apology because the agency was involved in negotiations with other clients at the network. Steele’s situation occurred as her CAA representative Matthew Kramer was negotiating new ESPN contracts for two of his top clients, Adam Schefter and Adrian Wojnarowski, who received contract extensions in April 2022, according to the suit.

“If CAA had been acting in Steele’s best interests rather than its own, it should have stood up to ESPN on Steele’s behalf rather than pushing Steele, and advising her as her agent, to agree to an apology and a suspension,” the suit said. “... CAA made the calculated, inexcusable choice to preserve its own cozy relationship with ESPN, at Steele’s expense.”

Steele, who is represented by attorney Bryan Freedman, joined ESPN in 2007. She spent four years as co-host of “NBA Countdown” and became co-anchor of the noon Eastern edition of “SportsCenter” in February 2021.

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Since departing ESPN, Steele has been appearing on various media outlets as a conservative talking head.

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