After being fired from Fox Sports last fall for his views against same-sex marriage, former football star and broadcaster Craig James is, by his own admission, "radioactive."
"It's put me in a bad spot," James said Tuesday, hours after it was announced that he would become assistant to the president at the Family Research Council, a national advocacy group founded in 1983 by a group of Christian leaders led by James Dobson.
"It's created a really radioactive deal around me, that I am antigay," said James, 53. "It was a sucker punch."
In fact, James had made clear his positions on family values and the definition of marriage long before being offered a one-hour show on Fox Sports Southwest in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, where he has lived most of his life. When he was a Republican candidate for the Senate in Texas in 2012, James often stated his religious beliefs against homosexuality.
In a February 2012 debate with other GOP candidates, including eventual winner Ted Cruz, James said: "I think right now in this country, our moral fiber is sliding down a slope that is going to be hard to stop if we don't stand up with leaders who don't go ride in gay parades. I can assure you I will never ride in a gay parade."
Asked if he thought people choose to be gay, James responded, "I think it's a choice, I do."
The moderator pushed him further: "It's not in the genes?"
"I think that you have to make that choice," James said. "But in that case right there, they are going to have to answer to the Lord for their actions. We should not give benefits to those civil unions."
More than a year and a half later, James was invited back to sports television by a general manager from Fox Sports in Dallas, who offered the former ESPN broadcaster a one-hour program starting with the college football season in September. (James quit his job at ESPN in late 2011 to enter politics after 23 years covering college games.)
"I did my first one-hour show, and the very next day I was fired," James said. "A Fox corporate guy in California issued a statement that said, "˜James's views are not consistent with our HR policy.' "
James is now headed toward litigation against Fox for violating his religious freedom. The Texas Workforce Commission has already issued a charge of discrimination against Fox Sports Southwest on behalf of James and the Liberty Institute, a conservative group that has taken up his cause.
While the case is proceeding through the courts, James plans to raise his profile in his new full-time job with the Family Research Council as top aide to the group's president, Tony Perkins.
"I will be spending time in Washington and all over the country," James said. "I might host his radio show, push for legislation in various places, cultivate relationships I've developed over the years. There is so much to do."
He summed up his message this way: "the Constitution, the First Amendment, and religious freedom." It's a motto that parallels the mission statement on the Family Research Council website: "Our vision is a culture in which human life is valued, families flourish, and religious liberty thrives."
While the past two years have been a roller-coaster ride, James looks back on them as having a purpose. "If I hadn't run for office I never would have made the public statements I made, and I never would have been fired, and I never would have been noticed by the Family Research Council," he said. "Now I feel like the dots have been connected for me."
In some ways, James feels fortunate not to be in the Senate. "Everyone in elective office is running scared and afraid of being bullied for making the wrong statement," he said. "And what's getting done in Congress? Nothing."
As a voice for family values, James can point to his own life as an example of keeping the faith in tough times, watching as his divorced mother struggled to keep him and his brother safe and healthy. "I grew up an apartment boy," he said. "I have eaten my fair share of mayonnaise sandwiches. I have found eviction notices taped to our door."
Sports gave James a way out, he said. He was a star running back in high school, and was offered a contract to play first base for the New York Yankees. He chose football, accepting an athletic scholarship to Southern Methodist University, where he teamed up with another future NFL star, running back Eric Dickerson.
James later played for the Washington Federals in the now-defunct USFL. He then joined the New England Patriots, which put him in the 1986 Super Bowl, a 46-10 rout by the Chicago Bears. He played five years for the Patriots and went into broadcasting just after retiring in 1989, first doing radio for SMU games and then working as a sports anchor at a Dallas TV station.
ESPN frequently had James appear on its college pregame and postgame shows, where he became a hit with the energetic former coach, Lee Corso, who called James "Mustang Breath" in reference to SMU's mascot. James did stints with CBS and ABC and finished out his broadcasting career working college games on both ABC and ESPN.