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Former sports commentator Craig James is bringing a religious discrimination lawsuit against Fox Sports, claiming he was fired because of his outspoken opposition to same-sex marriage and LGBT rights.
James, a former running back for the New England Patriots, a college football analyst, and U.S. Senate candidate from Texas in 2012, was hired by Fox Sports Southwest in 2013, only to be fired three days later. According to The Washington Post, James had not yet signed a contract with the network at the time he was fired, and Fox Sports Southwest said it was letting him go due to anti-gay comments he had made when seeking the GOP nomination for the U.S. Senate seat eventually won by Sen. Ted Cruz (R).
“We just asked ourselves how Craig’s statements would play in our human resources department,” the Post quotes Lou D’Emilio, Fox Sports Southwest’s senior vice president of communications, as saying when James was fired. “He couldn’t say those things here.” D’Emilio’s quote is used as evidence against Fox Sports Southwest in the official complaint filed by James’s lawyers.
James has long been vocal about his opposition to LGBT rights. The statement at the center of the controversy surrounding James is from a debate in February 2012 — 18 months before being hired by Fox Sports Southwest — in which he said being gay is a choice and gay people would have to answer to God for their actions.
“I think right now in this country, our moral fiber is sliding down a slope that is going to be hard to stop if we don’t stand up with leaders who don’t go ride in gay parades,” a dig at opponent Tom Leppert, the former mayor of Dallas, who had marched twice in his city’s gay pride parade.
In the official lawsuit, James is suing for at least $100,000 in damages, as well as attorney’s fees, claiming that his termination harmed his career as a commentator and led him to fear for his safety.
“As a direct and proximate result of Fox Sports’ actions, James found that even longtime associates suddenly refused to return a simple phone call,” the complaint reads. “Random strangers began harassing James at public events and following him, to the point where, for the first time in his life, he required a personal security escort. He feared for the security of himself and especially his family. Business associates began questioning him about whether he was fit to do business with, referring to Fox Sports’ actions. Business opportunities evaporated. James lost friends, business relationships, and numerous business opportunities as a result of Fox Sports’ actions.”
“This case is much bigger than me,” James told The Dallas Morning News in a prepared statement. “It affects every person who holds religious beliefs. I will not let Fox Sports trample my religious liberty. Today, many people have lost their jobs because of their faith. Sadly, countless are afraid to let their bosses know they even have a faith. This is America, and I intend to make sure Fox Sports knows they aren’t above the law.”
A spokesman for Fox Networks Group fired back at James’s allegations, calling James a “polarizing figure in the college sports community” and saying that “the decision not to use him in our college football coverage was based on the perception that he abused a previous on-air position to further a personal agenda. The decision had nothing to do with Mr. James’ religious beliefs and we did not discriminate against Mr. James in any way. The allegations are baseless and we will vigorously defend ourselves against them.”
The “personal agenda” to which Fox is referring is an incident in which James allegedly used his position as an analyst for ESPN to claim that Texas Tech football coach Mike Leach was mistreating James’s son. In 2009, James accused Leach of ordering his son, Adam, a member of Texas Tech’s football team, to stand in a dark, confined space after suffering a concussion in practice. Leach denied any wrongdoing, but was eventually fired from his position.
In the text of the lawsuit, James also claims to have friends and colleagues who identify as LGBT, saying he “respects others, including those who disagree with him, as he has throughout his career, and merely hopes for the same respect in turn.” But earlier this year, James appeared on Tony Perkins’ “Washington Watch” radio program to talk about the decisions of several professional sports teams, including his former team the Patriots, to join an amicus brief calling on the Supreme Court to legalize marriage equality. James disapproved of the teams’ actions, saying their support for same-sex marriage would intimidate players who feel differently about the issue.
“If I were a current player in that locker room and my livelihood depended on me being quiet or losing it because of my belief system, I worry I wonder,” he said. “So that’s Satan working on us.”
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