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ESPN anchor who called vaccine mandate 'sick' sues network for allegedly sidelining her

ESPN anchor Sage Steele has filed a lawsuit against the network, alleging it violated her free speech rights and sidelined her after controversial comments she made last year. 

In a lawsuit against ESPN, Steele alleged the network "violated Connecticut law and Steele's rights to free speech" based on "a faulty understanding" of remarks she made about COVID-19 vaccine mandates and former President Barack Obama, The Wall Street Journal and NBC News report.

While appearing on the Uncut With Jay Cutler podcast in 2021, Steele criticized her employer's COVID-19 vaccine mandate as "sick" and "​​scary." She also said it was "fascinating" that Obama identifies as Black "considering his Black dad was nowhere to be found, but his white mom and grandma raised him." 

Steele apologized at the time, acknowledging that "my recent comments created controversy for the company." 

But in the lawsuit, she says the network forced her to issue this "humiliating" apology. The lawsuit alleges ESPN also "suspended her for a period of time in October 2021," telling her she would be "sidelined," and has "continued to punish" her by "removing her from prime assignments." 

ESPN, though, told NBC News that Steele "remains a valued contributor" and that "as a point of fact, she was never suspended." Steele's attorney, Bryan Freedman, said she is "standing up to corporate America to ensure employees don't get their rights trampled on or their opinions silenced."