Craig James's Views on Homosexuality Shouldn't Cost Him a Fox Sports Job

It's important to fully air our disagreements in civic debate -- and to maintain spheres that are free from its controversies.
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Like so many Americans of my generation, the growing acceptance of gays and lesbians in this country strikes me as a wonderful, long-overdue advance in moral sense. I've supported equal marriage rights in print since the first time I conceived of the idea, thanks to Andrew Sullivan's eloquent advocacy. How joyful it has been to read his essays and blog posts, along with others by Jonathan Rauch and Dan Savage, to believe in the moral rightness of their cause, and then to see their victory enable so many ecstatic couples to join together. 

The arguments against gay marriage have never persuaded me. Christianity's insistence on treating homosexuality as a sin strikes me as a tragic, historic mistake. When I read that college-football analyst Craig James, formerly an SMU player, believes homosexuality is "a choice," that homosexuals will "have to answer to the Lord for their actions," and that even civil unions ought to be opposed, all positions he took during a 2012 U.S. Senate run, I couldn't disagree more. My belief is that homosexuality is both natural and inborn; that God, in whom I believe, looks upon gays and lesbians no more or less favorably than heterosexuals; and that opposing even civil unions is a morally objectionable position.

Despite strongly disagreeing with James's political and moral judgments, I want to go on record expressing my dismay at press reports that Fox Sports Southwest has withdrawn a job offer after discovering his remarks, even after a higher-up said of him, "He’s a talented broadcaster who I’ve admired throughout his career. His knowledge of college football and the experience he brings as an analyst will be a tremendous asset to our coverage."

Twenty years ago, when gay equality was an outlying position and prejudice against gays was the norm, I would've regarded it as imprudent and unjust to fire a college football analyst because he favored gay marriage or declared homosexuality not sinful. Today, I am every bit as convinced that it's imprudent and unjust to fire someone for calling gay marriage unwise and homosexuality sinful. These aren't remarks that he made on air, while doing his job.

A network would be justified in firing a sports broadcaster for expressing controversial moral or political views during an entertainment telecast that had nothing to do with the subject. But to not hire someone for prior remarks made amid civic debate, and that are indistinguishable from the position taken by almost half of all Americans at the time?

That action strengthens a suboptimal norm, even if Fox Sports is acting within its legal rights.

America is always going to be a diverse country that encompasses people with very different political views and moral values. In order to get along, despite our differences, it is useful to debate divisive issues openly through the civic process, and to establish spheres where what divides us is set aside as irrelevant. Fox Sports's actions undermine society's ability to do both things.

It isn't always easy to decide how to separate political and religious disagreement from other spheres of life.

The guests at my wedding almost certainly included both supporters and opponents of gay marriage. Had a debate on the subject erupted at one of the dinner tables, I'd have thought, "This isn't the right place to argue politics." At the same time, my wife and I wanted to include, as one of our readings, the opinion from Goodridge v. Department of Public Health, in part to celebrate an understanding of marriage we could fully share with our gay friends.

A recurring sports broadcast is far easier to navigate. It would be fantastically easy to analyze college football and to never pronounce upon the prudence of society embracing civil unions or whether homosexuality is or isn't sinful. 

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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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