Sports commentator Craig James is threatening legal action against Fox Sports for firing him from his role as an analyst on a regional network, but Fox says that he was dropped because he was “not a good fit” and a “polarizing figure in the college sports community.”
James, a former NFL running back and conservative politician, was hired in August as an analyst for Fox Sports Southwest, having last held a regular gig on ESPN before his unsuccessful bid for the U.S. Senate in Texas last year. But he was dropped after one appearance, with Fox explaining that the decision to use him “was not properly vetted.”
During his campaign, James came out against same-sex marriage and, at a candidates forum, said that being gay was a “choice.” “I think that you have to make that choice,” he said at the forum. “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.”
In a letter to Fox Sports sent on Tuesday by the Liberty Institute, an advocacy law firm in Plano, Texas, that is representing James, the org’s general counsel Jeffrey Mateer wrote that the decision to terminate James was a “severe violation” of his religious liberty, and demanded his reinstatement and a response from Fox within 48 hours. He cited a comment that a Fox spokesman made to the Dallas Morning News after he was dropped. “We just asked ourselves how Craig’s statements would play in our human resources department. He couldn’t say those things here,” the spokesman was quoted as saying.
Yet after the Liberty Institute letter, Fox issued a statement in which it said that there were reasons other than his religious conservatism for his dismissal. “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 at Fox Sports.
“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 was hired by Jon Heidtke, general manager of the regional sports network. His dismissal was announced two days after his sole Aug. 31 appearance.
In the letter, Mateer said his termination “raises serious issues” of religious discrimination, “unlawful disparagement” of James’ character, “malicious interference” with his employment and “unlawful termination.” He wrote that James’ views on same-sex marriage “are very personal. They are his sincerely held religious beliefs. These views are not part of sports or sports broadcasting, and Mr. James has not and never would discuss his personal faith on the air or in his employment capacity, and FSSW and Fox Sports knew this when they hired Mr. James and they know it now.”
Before he ran for the Senate, James was embroiled in a controversy over the firing of Texas Tech coach Mike Leach. Leach was terminated in 2009 after an investigation into alleged abusive behavior toward one of his players, Adam James, Craig James’ son. But Leach claimed that Craig James, then working for ESPN, complained to the university about how his son was being used on the team, and that James played a role in his firing. A judge last month dismissed a defamation suit that Leach had filed against the elder James and ESPN.