Stephen A. Smith disagrees with Sage Steele's claims she was treated differently by ESPN

Former ESPN anchor Sage Steele said she was treated differently by the company, but ESPN mainstay Stephen A. Smith disagrees.

Steele announced her departure from ESPN last week after she "successfully settled" a lawsuit against the company over an alleged violation of her free-speech rights. She appeared on "The Megyn Kelly Show" shortly after her exit to discuss the alleged toxic environment at her former employer.

“If we are allowing my peers to go on social media, much less on our own airwaves, saying things … then I should be allowed on my personal time to give my opinion on my experiences personally, without telling others what to do,” Steele said on the podcast Thursday. “There were different rules for me than everyone else.”

Smith, one of the most recognizable faces on ESPN, addressed Steele's comments on his own podcast Monday, saying, "I don't necessarily vibe with her assertions that there were different rules for her than everyone else."

Smith didn't dismiss her claims against the company entirely, but he did draw the line on differing treatment. “The rules are different depending on the circumstances of the situation, which are analyzed and dissected on a case by case basis by ESPN. I would know because it happens to me all the time. Certain issues are bigger than others," Smith said.

During an appearance on the "Uncut with Jay Cutler" podcast in 2021, Steele made controversial comments about President Barack Obama's racial identity, saying it was "fascinating" he identified as Black even though his "Black dad was nowhere to be found." She also criticized ESPN's COVID-19 vaccine mandate and how some women dress.

Steele was subsequently placed on paid leave following her comments and later filed a lawsuit against ESPN and parent company Disney for violating her free-speech rights under the First Amendment. She announced last week on social media that she had parted ways with ESPN, where she's worked since 2007.

SAGE STEELE: Ex-ESPN anchor alleges Barbara Walters 'tried to beat me up' on set of 'The View'

Smith shot down the notion that ESPN is "some liberal place" – "I know a bunch of conservatives that work at ESPN" – and said the company is concerned more about its bottom line than politics, contrary to what many believe.

"The company is going to respond and react to that because when you have stockholders and shareholders, you have to be sensitive to those things," said Smith. "And to me, that's not foreign."

Smith said he thinks it's "a mistake when a corporation tries to silence anybody."

"I think you let everybody speak, that way the company doesn’t get blamed for the positions and individual takes. The individual has to be culpable for the words that we articulate and the impact that it has ultimately on us," he said. "If I say something and it ultimately cost ESPN dollars and as a result ESPN says ‘You got to go,’ they’re not saying I have to go because of my politics. They’re saying I have to go because I compromised their bottom line. And I think that's the position all corporations should take as opposed to trying to curtail or silence anybody.”

Smith wished Steele "nothing but the best" and said he doesn't "fully agree with her politics," but acknowledged that his former coworker is a "consummate professional."

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