Befitting a man who espoused homophobic beliefs during a failed Senate run, believes himself to be Christian martyr, and has been dogged by allegations that he killed five hookers while at SMU, Craig James sued Fox Sports on Monday for religious discrimination, alleging that he was fired because of his “religious beliefs about marriage.”
Craig James, if you remember, is the former ESPN college football analyst best known for when his son alleged that Texas Tech coach Mike Leach mistreated him, leading to Leach’s firing. (Leach filed suit against ESPN and James, but it was dismissed.) James quit ESPN to launch a bid for the U.S. Senate seat ultimately won by Ted Cruz, but finished fourth in the Republican primary with just 3.6% of the vote.
During a debate leading up to the primary, James dropped this doozy in regards to an opponent who had marched in Dallas’s gay pride parade:
JAMES: 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. I can assure you I will never ride in a gay parade. And I hear what you’re saying, Tom, but leaders—our kids out there people need to see examples.
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.
ESPN immediately made it clear that they weren’t going to hire James back, but as usual when ESPN finally lets go of talent who spout heinous shit, Fox Sports was there to pick up the slack. Fox Sports Southwest hired James, and then fired him after just one broadcast, before he had even officially signed his contract. At the time Richard Deitsch reported that Fox Sports Southwest hadn’t cleared the hiring with Fox Sports, and a Fox Sports spokesperson said: “We just asked ourselves how Craig’s statements would play in our human resources department. He couldn’t say those things here.”
In the suit, James asks for $100,000 or more, including punitive damages, and alleges substantial harm to his business prospects and reputation:
As a direct and proximate result of Fox Sports’ actions, James found that even longtime associates suddenly refused to return a simple phone call. 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.
Seriously, things are looking bleak for James:
His own agent told him that Fox Sports made him unhirable through its actions. Since then, James sought but has been unable to find a single position in televised sports broadcasting at any level, let alone a level comparable to the numerous positions he has held throughout his career.
Due to Fox Sports’ actions, the only type of broadcasting welcoming James is religious broadcasting relating to marriage and family issues. In order to provide for his family (and mitigate his ongoing damages), James eventually accepted a position with a conservative family-oriented group where he interviews people and covers news on topics related to marriage and family issues. Prior to Fox Sports’ statement, James’ only reported public statement about such things was the same minute-and-a-half response to a question that Fox Sports says it terminated him for.
Since Fox Sports’ statement, James has sought new opportunities but found no further television broadcasting opportunities available in sportscasting. He has instead recently partnered to begin a sports podcast, and although he is hopeful about it, it is incomparable to many of his past opportunities.
The suite notes that in February of 2014, James filed a religious discrimination complaint with the Texas Workforce Commission Civil Rights Division. After mediation, he was given a “notice of the right to file a civil action” on June 5, 2015. Once given that notice, James had only 60 days to file suit or his complaint would be barred, and Monday was the 59th day since June 5.
In a statement to the Dallas Morning News, Fox Sports denied that James was fired for his religious beliefs, but rather because he “abused a previous on-air position to further a personal agenda,” presumably referring to the fact that James began running for office while still an ESPN employee. Here’s the statement:
As we have previously stated, Craig James is a polarizing figure in the college sports community and 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.
I won’t pretend to understand Texas employment law, contract law, and the Texas Commission on Human Rights Act well enough to judge whether James’s claims have merit. But I will note that James’s suit has a point with the strange timing of his firing. He co-mingled his ESPN job and running for Senate in December 2011, and said those awful things in May of 2012. Yet, Fox Sports Southwest didn’t hire him until August 2013, when even a cursory google search or two would’ve revealed all the reasons in the world not to hire James.
You can view a PDF of a redacted copy of the lawsuit here.