Sage Steele provides details on making of Black History Month feature on her pioneering father

Behind the scenes of SportsCenter’s Gary Steele feature: (l) ESPN’s Sage Steele (seated) looks through family photos; (r) Sage’s father Gary Steele poses with a football. (Luke Williams/ESPN)

ESPN is celebrating Black History Month with a series of features and vignettes that will air throughout February. One of these remarkable pieces began airing this week. ESPN’s Sage Steele narrates the story of her father, Col. Gary Steele. A West Point graduate, Steele in 1966 effectively broke the school’s color barrier when he became the first African-American to play varsity football at the United States Military Academy.

Front Row had the opportunity to talk with Sage – who is the host of NBA Countdown Fridays and Sundays – about this SportsCenter feature. In the piece below, Steele provides insight into her relationship with her father, how this piece came together and why she’s proud to be Gary Steele’s daughter.

How did this SportsCenter feature come together?
Michael Fountain [ESPN senior coordinating producer] is the one who originally asked if I’d want to be involved with this feature. It was originally going to be for Veterans Day, but my dad has been undergoing treatments for prostate cancer so we had to push it back. Then, they came back to me a week-and-a-half ago and said, “Do you want to do this in conjunction with Black History Month?” I said, “Awesome.” They had a script written and Luke Williams [associate producer] and Valerie Gordon [coordinating producer] put this thing together.

What was your reaction when you first saw the finished piece?
I had to watch it three times because the first time I cried throughout it. It was more emotional for me than I thought it would be. I realize how fortunate I am to honor my dad on a platform like this and when I saw his face on television, it just hit me. I’ve always known how blessed I am to have a great family, but now the world can see how special my dad is, not just as a former athlete, but most importantly as a person.

In what ways did you influence this piece?
They came to my house and we tweaked some things and we came up with a lot of different ideas. We actually revised the script together in my kitchen. I did have influence, but the coolest part to me is that it wasn’t my idea. People at ESPN recognized that there was a special story there. The production staff risked life and limb making it to my parents’ house in Pennsylvania amidst 15 inches of snow. Luke was just blown away with what my dad said, how he said it and what he stands for. I had to convince my dad to do this, he didn’t want to do it. He’s just so humble, that’s why I lost it when I saw it on TV. He deserves it and he won’t give it to himself. He showed everyone what a truly good human being is and how to overcome adversity with class. I’m so proud to be his daughter.

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