Sage Steele waves to fans during the Ally 400 at the Nashville Superspeedway in Lebanon, Tenn. Sage Steele waves to fans during the Ally 400 at the Nashville Superspeedway in Lebanon, Tenn.

SportsCenter host Sage Steele has made it no secret in recent months that she is against the idea of transgender women competing against other women in athletics. That and other comments she’s made in recent years have made her one of the rare ESPN talents who seem to be able to speak freely about political and culture war issues (the free speech lawsuit she filed against the company probably helps).

Steele isn’t alone at ESPN in publically pushing back on transgender athletes competing in girls’ and women’s sports. Sunday NFL Countdown host Sam Ponder has also stepped fully into the fray.

If ESPN had hopes that their Twitter commentary would stay there, those were shattered in late May when USA Today’s Nancy Armour wrote a scathing commentary about Ponder, accusing her of peddling bigotry under the guise of caring about women’s sports.

Did Ponder use her platform to express outrage at any of this? Urge her nearly half-million followers on Twitter to write or call their representatives and ask that women be given the funding and opportunities they rightfully deserve? Did she publicly participate in any of the many excellent documentaries, videos and commentary ESPN did to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Title IX last year? Or even Tweet about them?

No, she did not. Her public concern about “fairness” for female athletes starts and stops with the miniscule number of transgender women who are participating in sports.”

Steele came to Ponder’s defense at the time.

Now, it’s Ponder’s turn to defend her fellow ESPN employee against criticism.

Soccer legend Megan Rapinoe announced last week that she will retire at the end of the current NWSL season. The 38-year-old, who has long been an outspoken proponent for the LGBTQ+ community, shared some strong thoughts with TIME on the rhetoric that has spread in recent months over transgender athletes and transgender people in general. Specifically, she called out comedian Dave Chappelle, tennis legend Martina Navratilova, and Steele over their comments and their impact.

“I don’t want to mince words about it,” Rapinoe said. “Dave Chappelle making jokes about trans people directly leads to violence, whether it’s verbal or otherwise, against trans people. When Martina [Navratilova] or Sage [Steele] or whoever are talking about this, people aren’t hearing it just in the context of elite sports. They’re saying, ‘The rest of my life, this is how I’m going to treat trans people.’”

Rapinoe also echoed Armour’s comments about how opponents of transgender athlete participation talk about protecting women’s sports when that didn’t seem to be a major issue for them previously.

“It’s particularly frustrating when women’s sports is weaponized,” said Rapinoe. “Oh, now we care about fairness? Now we care about women’s sports? That’s total bull****. And show me all the trans people who are nefariously taking advantage of being trans in sports. It’s just not happening.”

Both Ponder and Steele responded to Rapinoe’s charges on Twitter.

“Sage says bio males shouldn’t compete in female sports and now she’s to blame for violence? This is an attempt to silence good-faith discussion and debate,” Ponder tweeted. “Disagree passionately, say she’s wrong (& why)… but to claim she is responsible for violence is absurd.”

“Yes Sam…it’s absurd. And predictable! This is what happens when ppl allow their emotions to get in the way of FACTS & SCIENCE. Esp when they’re fighting to keep a false narrative alive. You said it best after Armour attacked you: “biology is not bigotry,” added Steele in a quote tweet.

Personal opinions aside, it’s still fascinating to see where all of this goes. As the transgender panic will be one of the biggest culture war topics of the 2024 election cycle, will ESPN and Disney have to make some kind of comment eventually, one way or another? Their longstanding desire for talent to stay out of political discussions and the pushback they received when their hosts didn’t “stick to sports” imply that there’s a line Steele and Ponder could cross. Though given the current political climate, perhaps not?

As part of her desire to take part in “good faith debate” involving “facts and science,” Steele also recently shared her reactions to obviously false anti-transgender rhetoric, unverified anti-vaccine content, and noted cheater Lance Armstrong’s thoughts on fairness.

[NY Post, Sam Ponder, Sage Steele]

About Sean Keeley

Along with writing for Awful Announcing and The Comeback, Sean is the Editorial Strategy Director for Comeback Media. Previously, he created the Syracuse blog Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician and wrote 'How To Grow An Orange: The Right Way to Brainwash Your Child Into Rooting for Syracuse.' He has also written non-Syracuse-related things for SB Nation, Curbed, and other outlets. He currently lives in Seattle where he is complaining about bagels. Send tips/comments/complaints to