DALLAS (AP) — Former college football broadcaster Craig James says Fox Sports hit him with a "sucker punch" — first inviting him to join a regional network show, then firing him days later and telling the media he was too polarizing.
James has filed a complaint with the Texas Workforce Commission accusing Fox of firing him because he spoke as a U.S. Senate candidate about his opposition to gay marriage. He told The Associated Press on Thursday that he wants to hold the network accountable for violating his religious freedom.
One day after his first appearance on Fox Sports Southwest, James says he was fired and then read a spokesman’s comment online that the network questioned "how Craig’s statements would play in our human resources department."
"That’s like a sucker punch," James said Thursday. "For someone to call you and offer you a job, praise your talents, your credentials, put you on the air the next day and fire you the following the day: That’s like some kind of mean joke."
James said the firing has left him "radioactive" for future broadcasting jobs.
The network says he was hired by regional executives and not "properly vetted."
"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 network said in a statement Thursday.
James was a longtime color commentator for ESPN who quit to run for U.S. Senate two years ago in Texas, where he grew up and starred at SMU. He finished fourth in the Republican primary.
During one campaign debate, James said he opposed gay marriage and that gay people would one day "have to answer to the Lord for their actions."
James has been involved in a number of controversies during his time on TV, including a long, high-profile fight with former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach over the treatment of James’ son when he played for Leach. But James and attorneys at the Plano, Texas-based Liberty Institute, a conservative advocacy group, accuse Fox of targeting him specifically due to his statements about gay marriage.
"It has nothing to do with Texas Tech," James said Thursday. "They want to try to confuse and get away from that, and those false statements that they’re making do not hold water."
If it decides James’ claim has merit, the workforce commission could take action against the network or allow James to go ahead with his own lawsuit. A spokeswoman for the commission did not return messages Thursday.
With his TV career on hold, James said he maintains private ranches and other business interests, and hopes to continue speaking out about religious freedom. He also said he would not rule out another run for public office.
"I’m not out of the public eye," James said. "I am serving a role to get people to be aware of the real fight that we have."
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