Craig James sues Fox: 'This is about all of us'

Religious Liberty | The former sportscaster says he is standing up to persecution for the sake of all believers
by Sarah Padbury
Posted 8/06/15, 06:45 pm

Craig James, a former professional football player and longtime sports broadcaster, filed a lawsuit against Fox Sports on Monday, asserting the company wrongfully fired him in 2013 for his religious beliefs about marriage.

“I so firmly believe that we are under trial with religious liberty in America,” James told me. “If those who have been persecuted or fired or discriminated against don't stand up, we will lose the religious freedoms that make America what it is.”

In 2012, James took a break from sports broadcasting to launch an unsuccessful bid for the Republican nomination for a U.S. Senate seat in Texas. During a debate, an audience member asked James if he supported same-sex marriage. James said he did not due to his Christian beliefs.

Eighteen months later, Jon Heidtke, general manager of Fox Sports Southwest, recruited James to be a college football studio analyst. On Aug. 30, 2013, Fox issued a glowing press release, calling James a “talented broadcaster” and “tremendous asset.”

James’ first—and—last appearance on Fox was Aug. 31. The next day, Heidtke called to inform him his services were no longer needed. Heidtke gave no explanation for the sudden firing.

But five days later, The Dallas Morning News quoted a Fox executive who said James was fired because of his comments about same-sex marriage during the Senate campaign.

“We just asked ourselves how Craig’s statements would play in our human resources department,” the spokesman told the newspaper. “He couldn’t say those things here.”

James hired the Liberty Institute to pursue legal action against Fox Sports for religious discrimination.

“People don't know they have rights,” said Jeff Mateer, general counsel for the Liberty Institute. “They don’t know that it is illegal to discriminate [in the workplace] due to religious beliefs, be it Fox or Apple or AT&T or the local grocery store. It violates the law, both state and federal.”

James pointed out in an interview with Breitbart, a conservative news website, that he had never discussed his faith or beliefs while broadcasting during his 24 years on the air.

“I believe it is essential in our business to maintain professional relationships with people from a diverse background and have tolerance for those of different beliefs,” James told Breitbart.

Thelawsuit states that James measures others by their “merit, not their beliefs or background” and offers as evidence the fact that James hired an openly gay man as his campaign consultant while running for U.S. Senate because he was the most qualified candidate.

Prior to his short stint at Fox Sports, James’ broadcasting career spanned several high-profile positions at major networks, including ESPN, ABC, and CBS. But since his much-publicized firing, James has not been able to find a job in the sportscasting world.

“My agent was pretty clear from the beginning that I am now ‘radioactive,’” James said. “If a big company like ESPN or CBS were to come and hire me, they would take considerable heat and pressure from a community that doesn’t want me on the air [due to] my belief system. [The network] wouldn’t want to put up with it.”   

In addition to lost work opportunities, James lost dozens of business relationships and friendships over the controversy. He described watching Jon Heidtke, the Fox executive who recruited him, during Heidtke’s deposition.

“There was anguish on his face,” James said. “He acted as if he didn’t hardly even know me … like pulling teeth to get him to say we were friends.”

Heidtke and James were longtime friends who prayed together regularly while Heidtke’s wife was dying of cancer, James said.

But James said he doesn’t take Heidtke’s actions or similar slights from other colleagues personally. Instead, he feels “great compassion as a brother in Christ” for them because “I understand their fear of losing their job.”

Despite his compounded losses, James said he has “tremendous support” from his family, church, and men’s group. He said God prepared him to stand up in this high-profile case: “I look at it as a privilege to be a modern day warrior for Christ, to be able to be put in the game and go stand and fight for all of our brothers and sisters. This is about all of us.”

Sarah Padbury

Sarah is a writer, editor, and adoption advocate. She is a graduate of the WORLD Journalism Institute's mid-career course. Sarah and her husband live with their six teenagers in Castle Rock, Colo.

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