ESPN’s Sage Steele shares stories and advice with avid IU students

ESPN SportsCenter anchor Sage Steele, an Indiana graduate, returned to Bloomington Friday to speak with current undergraduates and to accept the 2011 Anita Aldrich Distinguished Alumni Award from the School of HPER.

In 8th grade, her dream was to be an anchor on ESPN. Decades later, after turning down the network twice, Steele achieved her dream and loves every moment.

Sage Steele, 38, was a child of an Army family. She traveled and moved around so many times when she was young that it was hard to get comfortable and fit in. For her senior year of high school, she moved to Carmel, Indiana which she said was devastating because she wanted to live senior year up, go to prom and enjoy the year with her best friends…but attending a new school in a new state, Steele didn’t know anyone. And to make matters worse, she was a shy child. Her parents even took her to a psychiatrist because as she said, “I was afraid of my shadow.”

Following high school, she attended IUPUI in Indianapolis. Months into it she changed her mind. While visiting a friend up at Notre Dame, she got her first true feel for college life and realized IUPUI wasn’t for her. She then transferred to Indiana University-Bloomington, which she believes was one the best decisions of her life. Steele did note that she completed college in five years. Maybe a little too much fun.

It was actually at Herman B. Wells library where she met her husband now of eleven years. She was there to check her email (because that’s how you did it once a day back then), when she met him. Since, they have three children, ages eight, six and four. She graduated from the HPER school in 1995 with a degree in Sports Communication. This was her lifelong dream and she kept on the path.

While at Indiana, she waited tables at Colorado Steakhouse. Steele believes everyone should wait tables because of the things she learned at the job. In her time waitressing, she learned how to deal with people, especially the mean ones and how important a proper tip was.

Bill Armstrong, the President of the Indiana Student Foundation for many years, ate there most days. He soon became interested in Steele and the progress she made on the path to her dream. He eventually help land her an internship at WISH-TV in Indianapolis and her first job at WSBT, the CBS affiliate in South Bend, Indiana.

She worked there just over a year before moving on to the 25th biggest market, Indianapolis with WISH-TV, where she interned a few years prior. She did everything to make ends meet, still serving at Colorado Steakhouse. Steele early on, really felt a mistreated and judged, being a female in the sports industry. At the time she was still shy and didn’t stand up for herself. Finally, she desperately needed money and so she asked her boss for an advancement on her raise she was set to receive in about six months. He said no, and said she was not worthy. It was then when Steele hired an agent and left for WFTS in Tampa Florida, an even larger market.

Next for Sage was Comcast SportsNet in Maryland, a startup of the now big regional sports network. She had the choice between covering the Washington Redskins and Baltimore Ravens. She immediately chose the Ravens because she knew some people inside the organization and the poor management of the Redskins. Then after turning down ESPN twice, she joined the Worldwide Leader in Sports in September of 2007. Her dream had come true.

After about three weeks of shadowing other anchors, getting a feel for the network, and providing updates on Mike & Mike in the morning, Sage Steele made her debut on March 16, 2007, on the 6:00 p.m. edition of SportsCenter. It is one of the tapes Steele never want to re-watch because she was thrown into an impossible situation.

It was the first round of NCAA’s March Madness, and the normal hour show was nearly two hours and forty-five minutes of highlights and interviews. She even said Dick Vitale asked following the show, “Do you always get this nervous on air.” She said it took her two years to regain her confidence after that debut.

Steele was a pleasure to hear from. She was outgoing, enthusiastic, and driven. She was very open, down to earth and provided a unique insight into her journey to ESPN. It wasn’t easy and sacrifices were made, but Steele thought her path to ESPN made the most sense. She made mistakes in small markets and worked her way up. She was versatile and respected her job and co-workers. After maturing, improving dramatically and getting more comfortable, Sage Steele arrived in Bristol.

One of the big issues brought up was females in the sportscasting industry. Steele said this was a touchy subject that she is asked about all the time.

Right or not, Sage said females have to work harder in the sports broadcasting field. There is a stigmatism and prejudice that is surprisingly still an issue.

When deciding whether you want to cover sports, she said ask yourself, “Why do I want to do this.” If it’s to tell a story, share insight and report facts, great—keep improving. But if you (females) want to give women a bad name, dress skanky and pick up players with lots of money, get out and don’t disrespect the integrity of ‘us’ women sportscasters who have self-respect. She did note some sports reporters get their name because of their looks, a la Ines Sainz of TV Azteca. But she was proud of the way she represented her company and herself.

She challenged every student, both males and females to not get too tied into your job and forget about family. When she goes home for the day, she turns work off and focuses his her husband and three kids. If she had to choose between her family and ESPN, she said there is no question, she would choose family. But that’s not for everyone. Sage didn’t want to be the 40 year-old with a great job, but work was life.

Steele also said she is working with a voice coach because she has never liked her voice. She is learning to speak with her stomach and abs, rather than her vocal cords. If done properly, Steele says her abs hurt following an hour on SportsCenter.

Sage Steele had a special time while attending Indiana University. She recalled going to games, fraternity parties and living in the Villas. Because she was an Army child, Steele didn’t live anywhere long enough to call home. However after plenty of memories from Indianapolis and time in Bloomington, Steele admits Indiana is home…

I recorded her speech to the IU campus, with the exception of the questions. They are in two parts below in HD.

Part 1: on her early life, time at Indiana, meeting her husband, and her previous jobs.

Part 2: on making sacrifices, passing on ESPN initially, and her current gig on SportsCenter.

One Response to ESPN’s Sage Steele shares stories and advice with avid IU students
  1. Sage Steele | Jeff Pearlman
    October 27, 2015 | 2:39 am

    […] During your time as an undergrad at Indiana University you waited tables at Colorado Steakhouse. You later told Vigilant Sports’ Scott Agness that “everyone should wait tables” because of the…. Please explain […]

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