It’s been a tough stretch for Disney. The once-beloved corporation has seemed more interested in alienating parents, raising prices, and ruining its brand than actually producing kid-friendly content and making people happy. Their stock is tanking, the streaming service is bleeding subscribers, and the physical theme parks are seeing decades-low attendance.
It isn’t just the theme parks and the weird, inappropriate content, either. Disney has been trying to shed several other portions of their crumbling empire as well. ABC, Hulu, and ESPN have all been rumored to be for sale to the highest bidder.
Even Pixar, Marvel, and Lucasfilm haven’t been able to save the mouse. The latest streaming offerings for Marvel and Lucasfilm have been poorly received and have drawn bad ratings, and the most recent Pixar films were financial disasters. All in all, Disney is decaying in real-time.
Recently Disney had yet another kerfuffle with the First Amendment as they attempted to censor ESPN personality, Sage Steele. Steele, a black woman, made critical comments in a podcast in 2021 when she spoke against Disney’s draconian vaccine mandate, and she also took another jab, this time at former president Barack Obama for identifying as black rather than biracial.
Steele later apologized for her remarks but maintains the network forced it. She later went on to file a lawsuit against Disney, accusing ESPN of selective enforcement of its policies. The suit read in part that ESPN: “violated Connecticut law and Steele’s rights to free speech based upon a faulty understanding of her comments and a nonexistent, unenforced workplace policy that serves as nothing more than pretext.” The suit also claimed “inaccurate third-party accounts of Steele’s comments” and “did not immediately review the actual comments or the context in which they were made.”
It was a bad look for the “Worldwide Leader in Sports” to suspend and discipline a black woman as popular as Steele, especially for nothing more than voicing her opinion. Steele started with ESPN in 2007 and became hugely popular, becoming a regular on “Sportscenter” and appearing on “NBA Countdown” as well.
Steele announced Tuesday that the suit with her former employer has been settled, and she is moving on from ESPN after almost two decades with the Disney company. Steele posted on X, formerly Twitter, that she was looking forward to being able to “exercise my first amendment rights more freely.”
The full Tweet read: “Life update. Having successfully settled my case with ESPN/Disney, I have decided to leave so I can exercise my first amendment rights more freely. I am grateful for so many wonderful experiences over the past 16 years and am excited for my next chapter!”
Despite the acrimonious manner under which Steele was forced to leave, it is a credit to her that she kept it classy in a moment where she could have put the network on blast. As for ESPN, they said this: “ESPN and Sage Steele have mutually agreed to part ways. We thank her for her many contributions over the years.”
Steele is wildly popular and should be in high demand by more free-speech-centric outlets like “Outkick” or “Barstool Sports.” Wherever she lands, she will be successful and popular because sports fans want opinions. Not just opinions that the corporate suits feed the on-air personalities, but real opinions that make the viewer think and react organically.
It is yet another black eye for the crumbling Disney empire, but one that was self-inflicted and avoidable. Will Disney learn before it is too late? If recent history suggests anything, that answer is a resounding no.
Featured image screen grab from embedded YouTube video
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