ESPN Denies Report That Network Caved to Demand to Bar Sage Steele from Masters Coverage [UPDATE]

Ryan Glasspiegel

ESPN has categorically denied a story from Sports By Brooks that The Masters sought to ban Sage Steele from future coverage over recent comments she made in the Indianapolis Star and that ESPN plans to oblige the request. In a statement to The Big Lead, ESPN spokesperson Josh Krulewitz calls that story “completely untrue”.

The Indianapolis Star ran a story on April 10th with the headline ESPN’s Sage Steele at Masters: ‘It isn’t the prettiest history… I feel pressure’. Here is what her quotes looked like in the context of the story:

" The pristine Augusta National Golf Club is perfect in many ways, she said, but it is also marred. For decades, the course drew criticism for its exclusionary membership policies. A black man was not allowed until 1990. It took another 22 years for a woman to be admitted. “It isn’t the prettiest history, for sure, and that is putting it very, very kindly; therefore I feel pressure, maybe self-inflicted,” said Steele, a Carmel High and IU graduate, who arrived at Augusta on Monday to cover her third Masters Tournament for ESPN. “I’ve been nervous. I was nervous about it from the moment I got the assignment. I’m nervous out of responsibility for what it means.” "

A few things: Augusta National doesn’t have the prettiest history. To say otherwise would be an argument in bad faith. If club administrators did seek to bar Steele from tournament coverage for those remarks, they’d be wholly unreasonable.

The Indy Star story ran the day before the tournament, so if there was any friction about it initially it was at least smoothed over enough behind the scenes for Steele to anchor the coverage this year.

While just about everything falls under the “plans can change” umbrella, next April we will see whether Sage Steele is on ESPN’s coverage of The Masters or if she isn’t.

We have reached out to Brooks Melchior to see if he has any further comment about the story in light of ESPN’s statement, and will update if we hear back.

UPDATE: ESPN has sent a more thorough statement: “All aspects of this report are entirely and completely false. We have not been asked by anyone to remove Sage from future coverage.”