Black Activists Call for Investigation into Bias at ESPN

By Melanie Arter | July 23, 2020 | 3:31pm EDT
SportsCenter anchor Sage Steele at the espnW Women + Sports Summit held at The Resort at Pelican Hill on October 23, 2019 in Newport Beach, California. (Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images)
SportsCenter anchor Sage Steele at the espnW Women + Sports Summit held at The Resort at Pelican Hill on October 23, 2019 in Newport Beach, California. (Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images)

( – Project 21, a conservative black activist group, is calling on ESPN to apologize to veteran ESPN host Sage Steele for excluding her from a network documentary on race because they believed she wasn’t “racially authentic.”

"ESPN owes Sage Steele a huge apology. This is not how the media should operate in America," said Project 21 member Emery McClendon. "No one has the exclusive right to define another person's ethnic authenticity based on one's own bias or personal definition - not even one's fellow employees. The allegation that Steele would not be accepted by other blacks is pure conjecture and should have been left up to the viewers to decide."

Steele, a 13-year veteran of the network and who serves as anchor of the 6pm Eastern edition of “SportsCenter,” was purposely passed over by her colleagues - Elle Duncan and Michael – to be part of “The Undefeated Presents Time for Change: We Won't Be Defeated," a documentary that aired on June 24, the Wall Street Journal reported.

"As a person of color who has also had his 'blackness level' questioned by my racial peers, I am appalled that ESPN would countenance this," said Project 21 member Martin Baker. "Ms. Steele did no wrong here. She has stated opinions, which I assume we are still free to do as citizens of this great nation. 

“For her peers at ESPN to publicly suggest she is not 'black enough' to speak on racial matters is insulting at best and horribly insensitive at worst. It's also possible grounds for legal action. ESPN is treading on dangerous ground, and I would strongly advise it gets off that 'third rail' immediately," Baker added.

Steele reportedly told ESPN President Jimmy Pitaro that she had concerns about a “divisive work environment.”

She told the Wall Street Journal: 

“I found it sad for all of us that any human beings should be allowed to define someone’s ‘Blackness,’” Steele wrote. “Growing up biracial in America with a Black father and a white mother, I have felt the inequities that many, if not all Black and biracial people have felt — being called a monkey, the N-word, having ape sounds made as I walked by — words and actions that all of us know sting forever.

“Most importantly, trying to define who is and isn’t Black enough goes against everything we are fighting for in this country, and only creates more of a divide,” she added.

Project 21 is calling on the Walt Disney Company, which owns ESPN, to launch an independent investigation into racial and political bias at ESPN in its programming and staffing decisions and make the results of that investigation public by the end of the year.

"Left-wing political bias at ESPN is well-known, and Jimmy Pitaro as president was supposed to bring the channel back to neutral. It appears he has failed," said Project 21 Co-Chairman Council Nedd II. "ABC late night host Jimmy Kimmel notoriously wore blackface to mock basketball star Karl Malone. As a reliable leftist, does that make him more eligible for the 'Undefeated' special than Sage Steele? Disney needs to get to the bottom of the continuing bias problems at ESPN, which now seem to include race, and let us sports fans know how it plans to get back to just covering sports."  

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