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ESPN sidelines Sage Steele after comments about network's vaccination mandate and Barack Obama

The sportscaster questioned why the former president identifies as African American when his "Black dad is nowhere to be found."
ESPN Analyst Sage Steele talks during game four of the NBA Finals between the Toronto Raptors and the Golden State Warriors on June 7, 2019, in Oakland, Calif.
ESPN Analyst Sage Steele talks during Game 4 of the NBA Finals between the Toronto Raptors and the Golden State Warriors in Oakland, Calif., on June 7, 2019. Rey Josue II / NBAE via Getty Images file

ESPN sidelined reporter Sage Steele on Tuesday after she questioned former President Barack Obama's racial identity and blasted her company's Covid-19 vaccination policy.

Steele made the comments in a Sept. 29 episode of the "Uncut with Jay Cutler" podcast with Cutler, a former Chicago Bears quarterback.

"At ESPN, we embrace different points of view — dialogue and discussion makes this place great," the company said in a statement. "That said, we expect that those points of view be expressed respectfully, in a manner consistent with our values, and in line with our internal policies."

It wasn't immediately clear how long Steele would be off the air, and the company didn't say which of Steele's comments had resulted in the decision.

"We are having direct conversations with Sage, and those conversations will remain private," the network said.

Steele apologized in a statement released Tuesday.

"I know my recent comments created controversy for the company, and I apologize," she said. "We are in the midst of an extremely challenging time that impacts all of us, and it's more critical than ever that we communicate constructively and thoughtfully."

In the podcast, Steele accused former "The View" host Barbara Walters of belittling her for identifying as biracial.

"She's like, 'Well what happens when you ... fill out your census?'" Steele said. "If they make you choose a race, she's like, 'What are you going to put?' I go, 'Well, both.'"

Steele is the daughter of Gary Steele, the first Black football player at the U.S. Military Academy West Point, and Mona Steele, a white woman.

Steele continued: "'Barack Obama chose Black, and he's biracial,' and I'm like, well, congratulations to the president. That's his thing. I think that's fascinating considering his Black dad was nowhere to be found but his white mom and grandma raised him. But hey, you do you, I'm going to do me."

In that same podcast, Steele, who said she has been vaccinated, referred to her company's vaccination mandate as "sick."

"I respect everyone's decision. I really do. But to mandate it is sick," Steele said. "It's one thing with masks, and I don't have a problem with that. It's another thing when you force this."

Vaccines have proved effective in preventing severe illness and reducing hospitalizations from Covid-19, which has killed more than 710,000 people in the U.S. since early last year, according to a running tally by NBC News.

Also in the podcast, Steele took women to task for allegedly wearing provocative clothing to draw the interest of men in the workplace.

"When you dress like that, I'm not saying you deserve the gross comments, but you know what you're doing when you put that outfit on, too," she said. "We need to be responsible as women, too. We know what we're doing when we put certain things on."

Cutler appeared to defend Steele by tweeting a Fox News Channel story about Steele's being pulled off the air, writing: "Ridiculous. I'm also going to take a week off work. Be back next week."

Brooke Glatz contributed.