Fox Sports Vs. Religious Freedom? Um ... No.
Former Southern Methodist University star and college football broadcaster Craig James is suing Fox Sports, claiming the company fired him from a broadcast gig because of "religious discrimination," which is code for saying it objected to his unabashed homophobia. It seems James is determined to make himself a martyr and hope everyone will ignore his extremely checkered past.
In 2013, after a spectacularly failed U.S. Senate run, James was hired by Fox Sports Southwest as a college football analyst, only to be fired two days later. On the stump, James had characterized being gay as "a choice" that shouldn't be rewarded with civil unions or marriage benefits. He also stated that gays "are going to have to answer to the Lord for their actions." He chided another candidate for appearing in a gay pride parade.
The higher-ups at Fox Sports had reportedly not been informed of the hire by the regional network, and terminated James once these statements came to light. (James had yet to sign a contract.) Almost immediately, he accused the company of religious bias, taking to conservative outlets such as Breitbart to convince people that "people of faith are banned from working at Fox Sports."
Leaving alone the sheer absurdity that Fox, whose news division has been a prime platform for those advocating for "religious freedom" laws that can give legal cover to anti-gay discrimination, is somehow an enemy of the religious right, James and his $100,000 lawsuit conveniently ignore the very tangible business reasons Fox Sports wouldn't want someone like him as a mouthpiece. For one, there's workplace culture: "We just asked ourselves how Craig's statements would play in our human resources department," a Fox spokesman said at the time of his firing. Fox may be facing a single, largely meritless religious freedom lawsuit, but imagine the number of workplace discrimination suits the network might have faced had James been given a Fox-branded megaphone.
Then again, James doesn't exactly lend equal credence to the protection of LGBT employees as he does to the protection of his own discriminatory views. In March, he lamented that football players might no longer feel comfortable openly criticizing gay teammates, saying that calls for athletes to maybe keep those feelings to themselves were "Satan working on us." (Some might characterize that as simply "not creating a hostile work environment.")
In any event, James's views are simply at odds with the progress, admittedly frustratingly slow, that sports is making when it comes to LGBT rights. Fox Sports spared itself a huge headache in letting him go. We should all be thankful James didn't have a national platform at the time Michael Sam became the first openly gay player drafted by an NFL team. Perhaps the strides we've made are no more evident than in the legal brief several teams, including the New England Patriots, San Francisco Giants and Tampa Bay Rays, signed in support of marriage equality -- a move James harshly denounced. (Fox is a broadcast partner of the NFL and MLB.)
Sure, James has a federally protected right to his own opinion on marriage equality. But just as he is entitled to be a bigot, Fox Sports is entitled not to want to put a bigot on TV, or to associate its brand with one. (Though, admittedly, Fox Sports, new home of Colin Cowherd, doesn't always make the right call.) Despite what he'd tell you, James hasn't suffered any real threat to his free speech -- he just can't state his views on Fox's airwaves. Fox Sports has now released a statement defending its decision to let him go, "based on the perception that he abused a previous on-air position to further a personal agenda." He's since found numerous other outlets where he can share his retrograde opinions with "like-minded Americans" -- a group that's thankfully dwindling as the country moves forward.
The rest of the sports world is beginning to realize that anti-gay views aren't just discriminatory -- they're bad business. Fox Sports just realized that a couple of years before the rest.
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