On Monday (Dec 15), the network took to Twitter to alert fans of the change, making note that Sage Steele will no longer be anchoring the daily 6 p.m. edition of SportsCenter, before noting that the coveted spot would be filled by none other than Elle Duncan.
“ESPN announces SportsCenter anchor lineup for the new year,” the tweet read. “Steele will move to the noon ET edition of SportsCenter as co-anchor after the College Football Playoff and will add a new periodic ESPN+ interview program to her slate.”
Duncan, who is currently on maternity leave, and will join Kevin Negandhi, as co-host Monday thru Friday, upon her planned return in February. During her time at ESPN, Duncan has anchored many editions of SportsCenter and will continue contributing to other ESPN programs including Around the Horn and Highly Questionable.
“I’m honored to host the 6 p.m. SportsCenter and ultimately thrilled to work at a company that continues to offer new challenges and opportunities for growth,” Duncan said in a statement. “I’m so grateful to Matt Barrie for the partnership we’ve shared over the years and looking forward to building on a signature show with Kevin Negandhi in the new year. But first: this baby.”
While many celebrate the promotion of Duncan, many fans of the network can’t help but point out the karmic turn of events after Steele aired out her colleague in February during an interview with the Wall Street Journal accusing Duncan and fellow Black cohost Michael Eaves of allegedly attempting to “blackball” her from a special report on Black Athletes, citing colorism as their reasoning.
“I found it sad for all of us that any human beings should be allowed to define someone’s ‘Blackness,’” Steele told the Journal. “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.”
While the incident was never proven to be true, Steele’s continued problematic and MAGA-centered point of view was front and center on and off her slots seemed to play a role in the decision after it was revealed that the swap was spearheaded by ESPN executive vice president Norby Williamson, who oversaw a recent network radio shakeup that pushed the network toward more of a strict sports focus and away from pop culture and politics, by cutting Dan LeBatard’s show off by an hour, playing a role in his recent decision to leave amid creative differences with the network.
In an official release, Williamson addressed the swap citing that the change was to offer “new opportunities” to those on staff.
“We have a very talented and diverse set of voices on SportsCenter and a deep lineup of quality individuals who make up the team,” Williamson said, per the release. “As we turn the page to 2021, we’re doing what we have always done — providing new opportunities for some anchors to experience different shows and pairings while offering continuity and familiarity to our viewers with other editions.”
Despite the demotion, Steele has been offered the ability to host a “periodic interview program” for ESPN+ as part of the 2021 lineup changes. Details of that show, including the name and launch date will be revealed at a later date.
“As I begin my 15th year at ESPN, I couldn’t be happier for the opportunity to continue my dream job of hosting SportsCenter,” Steele said in a statement. “I am so thankful to ESPN for allowing me to do so by returning to my roots at noon ET while raising three teenagers.”