ESPN broadcaster Sage Steele is no stranger to criticism.
She’s taken flak on social media because of her stance that professional athletes should stand during the national anthem and for lamenting a missed flight in January because of protesters at the Los Angeles International Airport over President Donald Trump’s travel ban policy.
Criticism is inevitable no matter your political stance, Steele said in an interview with The Press of Atlantic City.
“I never once stated who I supported or who I voted for in the election,” she said. “I didn’t think it was anyone’s business.”
But taking criticism can be part of the job, and that’s one of the reasons she has so much respect for the Miss America contestants who will grace the stage at Boardwalk Hall on Sunday in Atlantic City.
Steele, 44, will return to host the competition with ABC’s Chris Harrison for the second straight year.
Her reasons for agreeing to come back again circle around her respect for the young women in the pageant, who walk on stage while on national television with nothing on but a bikini and high heels. They also get less than a minute to answer current event questions regarding the most complex political and social issues in our country today.
They do all this while trying to beat back the stigma that they are just beauty queens looking for fame and money.
“I don’t think these young women are given credit for how smart and well-informed they are,” Steele said. “They give back to their communities, do well in school, stay in shape, eat well and represent their city and state. … To me that’s why they’re role models and that’s a message that I feel very strongly about getting out.”
Steele, who has two girls and one boy of her own, added that she wouldn’t have agreed to do the show if it wasn’t something she wanted her kids to see and learn about.
“The physical part, which is what many people criticize, … that is one of the things that’s most impressive to me,” she said. “It’s not ‘look at me and how hot I am,’ it’s ‘I eat well, and I take care of my body,’ and that’s what I want my daughters to aspire to, … to be healthy young women.”
But hosting Miss America is also nostalgic for Steele.
Growing up in a military family, Steele describes herself as an “Army brat.” Her father, Gary Steele, was the first black player on the varsity football team at West Point in the 1960s.
Moving constantly for military purposes made it tough to see her grandmother, Steele said. But every year, they would visit her in early September and they would both watch Miss America together.
Those are memories that she cherishes, and hosting the competition helps keep those memories alive, she said.
“It was just a special thing for the two of us,” she said. “And aside from the nostalgic memories, this is true Americana. It’s been around forever, and I think is something that’s rare because it’s survived all the changes over the last century. … There is really nothing else like it.”