A sportscaster and former NFL player is planning to take legal action against Fox Sports Southwest for alleged religious discrimination after he says he was fired for his past statements about homosexuality.
Craig James told TheBlaze on Monday that what’s happening to him should be a “wake-up call to all folks who have religious beliefs.” He believes his situation will have widespread ramifications beyond his own professional well-being.
“This isn’t just about Christianity,” the former New England Patriots running back said. “I have a biblical belief that I’m being punished for. If you enjoy freedoms as a religious person, you need to stand up and be heard and let the persecutor know we aren’t going to accept this.”
James was fired just days after joining Fox Sports and isn’t taking his termination lightly. He says views he expressed during a failed U.S. Senate bid in Texas last year were personal beliefs based on his faith, including calling homosexuality a choice and vowing to “never ride in a gay parade.”
Considering the short amount of time between his hiring and firing, the motivation for James’ dismissal isn’t entirely clear. After he made just one public appearance on Aug. 31, Fox Sports Southwest suddenly cut him loose. A formal contract had not yet been signed, despite the beginnings of a working relationship.
“I received a phone call and they asked — the general manager at Fox South asked — if I was interested in getting back into broadcasting,” James told TheBlaze.
Fox Sports touted James in a press release after hiring him last month, but he said that two days later, he was cut loose and the network’s rhetoric changed.
Mike Anastassiou, a senior executive producer at the network, said in a statement just days before James was fired that he is “a talented broadcaster” with extensive college football experience and an individual whom he admires.
“Literally, they sought me out and on a Friday afternoon, August 30, they issued a national press release kind and complimentary … I did a one hour-show on Saturday and Sunday night I received a phone call from the [general manager] and was told it was over,” James said.
Fox Sports Southwest confirmed the firing last month, but has remained relatively silent about the details.
“Craig James will not be making any further appearances on Fox Sports Southwest’s football coverage this season,” a spokesperson told Sports Illustrated.
But the network did seem to admit that James’ views were at least in part a reason for the termination — a fact that has led James to hit back and say he’s being persecuted because of his religion.
It seems the controversy stems from comments James made during his Senate campaign last year. In addition to calling homosexuality a choice, James — who left his position at ESPN to campaign for a Senate seat — said during a debate gays will have to answer to God for their actions (he told TheBlaze Monday that everyone will have to answer to God for his or her 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,” James said during the debate in question. “I can assure you I will never ride in a gay parade.”
Here’s more from that debate:
Moderator: Do you think people choose to be gay?
James: I think it’s a choice, I do.
Moderator: It’s not in the genes?
James: I think that you have to make that choice. But in that case right there, they are going to have to answer to the Lord for their actions. We should not give benefits to those civil unions.
Based on a quote published by The Dallas Morning News, a spokesperson for Fox Sports confirmed that these comments, among others, were at the root of James’ dismissal (James also told TheBlaze that this same information was conveyed to his agent).
“We just asked ourselves how Craig’s statements would play in our human resources department,” the spokesman said. “He couldn’t say those things here.”
But later, another representative issued a statement saying there were additional issues at play.
“At Fox Sports we respect all points of view, and despite reports to the contrary, the decision to no longer use Craig James in our college football coverage was simply because he was not a good fit for Fox Sports,” the spokesperson said. “Mr. James, while both experienced and knowledgeable, is a polarizing figure in the college sports community. Regrettably, the decision to use him was not properly vetted, and as a result he will no longer provide commentary on Fox Sports Southwest’s college football coverage.”
James told TheBlaze it’s “bogus” to say his firing is about anything other than his statements about homosexuality.
“I think their statements before speak for themselves. Obviously, different people on TV and radio draw different factions that develop for or against them,” he said. “For them to come back and say it’s these other things after they went around telling everybody it’s what [I] said about marriage — that’s extremely bogus.”
James’ attorneys from the conservative Liberty Institute said they are prepared to move forward with legal action. In a three-page letter to Fox Sports they asked that their client be returned to the airwaves.
“Fox Sports has an opportunity here to resolve this in a friendly way and get this behind everybody, and we are hopeful that is what is going to happen,” attorney Hiram Sasser said in text published by the Houston Chronicle. “We are not interested in the blame game. We’re interested in resolving the issue and getting Craig back on the air.”
Sasser told TheBlaze that ignoring the situation would have a negative effect for others who hold similar religious views about gay marriage and homosexuality, which is why the organization is pushing hard to challenge the firing.
“If they can do this to Craig James, they can do it to anyone,” he said.
Liberty has filed a Rule 202 motion, which Breitbart News reports will lead to pre-litigation discovery. Sasser told Breitbart that the Rule 202 offers a powerful tool that will enable a judge to take quick action and to push for depositions in the next few weeks. It’s possible that Fox Sports management could be required to give sworn testimony about James’ firing.
James told TheBlaze he hopes to motivate others who share his beliefs and who have faced similar barriers to stand up and be heard, but said he has another goal in mind: to make Fox Sports Southwest come clean.
“[I want] for them to own up to making a mistake,” he told TheBlaze. “It’s simple, but you have to overcome your ego and your pride and not allow this thing to carry on.”
(H/T: NBC Sports)