Sage Steele’s past year had headlines questioning her politics, her family and her job security. It also included working the World Series, the NBA Finals and the Masters. And it’s all led her back to Bristol.
The anchor starts her newest chapter Monday morning with “SportsCenter AM” after a stretch covering events on the road. The self-proclaimed “Army brat,” whose father was the first black player on West Point’s football team, has been outspoken on social media in the past year about several issues that have dominated the sports political discourse. Steele called out Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans — which led to a vicious retort from Miko Grimes, a wife of the team’s cornerback Brent Grimes — for kneeling during the national anthem two days after Veterans Day and expressed her frustration with those protesting President Trump’s immigration ban at LAX in January and causing travelers to miss their flights.
Steele expects the new show to focus on highlights and analysis, but she knows it’s impossible to keep social and political issues from seeping into their conversations, especially as those topics become increasingly intertwined with sports.
“I truly believe, for me, there is a time and place. For the most part, I think we leave that to the news networks,” Steele told The Post during a sit-down conversation in downtown Manhattan. “When there is an obvious crossover, like Colin Kaepernick, that is a different situation, and we will have in-depth discussions beforehand to talk about the proper way to handle it.
“But I think it’s a very fine line, like I do believe that people come to us for their sports. Not everybody agrees with me on that, not everybody I work with agrees with me. That’s my personal opinion, that that’s where we go to escape.”
Steele has not tried to escape from the trolls that pounce on her social media posts and seemingly criticize her every move. Even when her parents advise her to delete the comments, Steele chooses to turn them into a lesson for her children — her two daughters, 15 and 11, and her 13-year-old son.
“I haven’t hidden that from them because I want them to see both sides, not just the really cool and glamorous side,” she said. “The fact that my kids see that now, that’s just as important as them seeing a woman doing a ‘man’s job.’ And for them to see that I’ve got it and I’m not going to crumble or bow down to these people that attack me, that’s probably what I’m most proud of.”
Steele’s professional life also came under scrutiny recently. As rumors of ESPN’s layoffs gained traction in the media, Steele was bumped out of her role as part-time host of “NBA Countdown” and the full-time gig went to Michelle Beadle for the postseason. Beadle told The Post recently that move had been planned from the start of the season, but a lack of information at the time led many to believe Steele was on the chopping block.
Instead, the 44-year-old is returning to the state she’s called home the longest — for seven years from 2007 to ’13 — and taking on a role she’s familiar with as the primary anchor of the show that will air every weekday from 7 to 10 a.m. In a year of shake-ups at ESPN, the show is getting significant push from the network, shaping up after Steele dove into her role as host of “SportsCenter on the Road.”
“It’s much harder on the road and that’s when I feel like I’m at my very best because something about that pressure drives me,” Steele said, checking her phone now and then to get updates on her family’s move from Phoenix, Ariz., to Bristol, Conn.
“There are times 10 seconds before the light goes on and we’re live from the Finals, and I’m like, ‘I have no idea what I’m about to say right now.’ But now I have the confidence to know that something semi-smart will likely come out, fingers crossed, and you just go with it. … That’s the sick part of my addiction to this. The more pressure there is, I’m like, ‘Let’s go get it.’”
Starting last September, Steele managed to fit practically every traditional sports championship, and then some, into 11 months. Her travels took her to the World Series, where she watched her beloved Cubs make history against the Indians, then to the NFL’s first game in Mexico City, the College Football National Championship, the Super Bowl, the NCAA Final Four, the Masters, the NBA Finals and back to baseball for the MLB All-Star Game.
She spoke with pride of her trip to Augusta National, given what the iconic golf course has represented in the past.
“I had never covered any golf tournament before as a host and then the Masters of all places, where women weren’t accepted, where African-Americans weren’t accepted,” Steele said. “So to go there for the first time was amazing as a sports fan, but also as a journalist, it was like, ‘This is a big deal.’”
As much as Steele thrived on the chaos of the past year — one that reminded her of her childhood bouncing around countries and military bases with her father — she said she’s ready to have a home base and reunite with the people who make her job worthwhile, including co-anchors Jay Harris and Randy Scott.
“One of the things that hopefully comes through immediately is the true friendship that I have with my co-hosts. Like I did my first ever ‘SportsCenter’ with Jay Harris and it was terrible,” Steele laughed. “He was great, I was a disaster. So that’s really come full circle.”
Steele gets slightly emotional when talking about her husband, Jonathan Bailey, and how she wouldn’t have made it this far in her career without him giving up his own to be a stay-at-home father.
With her husband’s sacrifice and her own youthful passion, Steele has dreams of covering an Olympics one day, since it was the 1984 Summer Games — which an 11-year-old Steele watched on the floor of one of her family’s homes, in Colorado Springs — that inspired her to get into sports in the first place. Now, she’s the one doing the inspiring.
“The fact that others can see it and maybe be inspired from it is pretty overwhelming, and I feel a pretty big responsibility that whatever I do, to do it as well as possible even if it kills me, even if I’m exhausted,” Steele said. “Honestly I’m never really truly happy with a show and my own performance. I want it to be perfect not just for me, but for whoever out there is watching.
“And if you think you’ve had a perfect show, you need to get out of the business. Get out now because there is always something you can do better.”
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