Fox Sports firing Craig James over his religious views left the former running back seeing the red of his old New England Patriots jersey. His litigation against the broadcasting behemoth leaves readers seeing black.
The 35-page lawsuit filed by James in a Texas district court on Monday redacts parts of 68 lines and a footnote. Exhibits B, F, G, H, and I remain completely redacted. Blacked-out lines appear in Exhibits D, L, and M.
“They have things they don’t want the public to see,” James attorney Hiram Sasser says of Fox. “Because of a protective order in place we’re not allowed to share that information with the public.”
The notion of a company dedicated to ferreting out the truth burrowing it beneath black magic marker hits observers as peculiar, as does the journalistic entity firing someone after a day on the air because of opinions on gay marriage voiced in the context of a political campaign more than a year earlier.
“It hasn’t just struck me [as ironic],” Craig James tells Breitbart Sports. “Countless fans from coast to coast have approached me and said, ‘This is Fox.’ Yes. There’s an irony.”
Fox Sports hired James in August 2013, calling the veteran CBS and ESPN college football analyst a “talented broadcaster” and a “tremendous asset.” But a day after James provided his first in-studio analysis for Fox Sports Southwest, the network fired him. “I’m a guy that believes in a man and a woman,” James said while running for the U.S. Senate in 2012, telling a debate audience that “God’s going to judge each one of us in this room for our actions.” The football expert’s media antagonists cited those and other words in an effort to remove him from the airwaves. Now Fox denies the Biblical beliefs that Craig’s critics cited influenced their decision to abruptly part ways with him.
The defendants, by obtaining a protective order, shielded reams of pages relevant to the case obtained in pre-trial discovery by Liberty Institute attorneys. But unsealed private emails and promulgated public statements from Fox indicate James’ views on gay marriage knocked the former SMU “Pony Express” running back off his studio saddle and prevented him from delivering his football messages to viewers. And the testimony of Fox Sports President Eric Shanks, made public only because Fox’s lawyers allegedly missed a deadline to seal the sensitive information, shows that on-air performance played no role in the firing of Craig James.
In his deposition, Shanks acknowledges he did not watch James on Fox Sports Southwest. When asked if the analyst’s on-air performance in any way influenced the decision to fire him, Shanks gives a blunt, “No.”
The media mogul, deemed the most influential man in sports by SportsBusinessDaily.com, acknowledges he sought a settlement for James: “I thought it was the fair thing to do to try to get him paid.” His testimony seems to support the football analyst’s point that, despite working for the network (however briefly), Fox never compensated him. “I guess I thought he had been paid,” Shanks testifies. “I didn’t find out until yesterday what the current status was.”
Other exhibits that made it past the censor’s pen include an internal email pointing to James’ beliefs on gay marriage sent to Shanks’s boss just two days before the termination.
“This story is about 18 months old, but Richard Deitsch from Sports Illustrated is dredging it up in light of FS Southwest hiring Craig James for studio work,” Fox Sports public relations vice president Chris Bellitti emailed Randy Freer, the overseer of the Fox family of networks, and other executives. The email links to a Deadspin.com story highlighting James’ religiously-inspired position on gay marriage, noting, “Craig James was a familiar target for Deitsch and Deadspin when he was [at] ESPN and afterwards when he was running for Senate in Texas.” He concludes, “It bears keeping an eye on it.”
The network’s public statements appear as damaging as its private emails. “We just asked ourselves how Craig’s statements would play in our human resources department,” a Fox spokesman told the Dallas Morning News just days after issuing the controversial pink slip. “He couldn’t say those things here.”
But the “things” Craig James said about gay marriage came out of his mouth in a political campaign rather than during football coverage, and they did so in reference to his Christian faith. Texas, where James lives and Fox Sports Southwest locates itself, prohibits discrimination on the basis of religious beliefs. The plaintiff worries that, in the midst of blacked out depositions and redacted exhibits—and stunning silence from a cable news station normally obsessed with stories such as his—observers overlook these two salient facts involving Fox’s stated reason for firing him and Texas’ settled law making religion an invalid reason for firing anyone.
“This is our challenge,” Craig James tells Breitbart Sports. “To not let them re-write history and make it another story.”