Craig James, the former running back for SMU and the New England Patriots, is making headlines again, only this time it’s for his foray into politics. James turned the state upside down in 2010 when he complained that his son, Adam, was mistreated at Texas Tech. Adam claimed that he was twice ordered to stand for hours in a confined, dark space. James was outraged. In the end, football coach Mike Leach was fired over the controversy. Special correspondent—and avid sports fan—Bryan Curtis recently spoke with James about the Tech issue, his run for the Senate, and why he believes his “Real Street” platform makes him the best candidate for the job. Here’s the story behind the story.
You’ve covered sports for many years. Did you ever think Craig James would run for political office?
I didn’t. But I’m not sure Craig did, either.
When you told people you were working on a piece about James, what was their first reaction?
Reaction number one: “Craig James is running for office? The announcer?” Reaction number two: “Really? Craig James?”
Did you have any expectations going into this assignment? Was James like you thought he would be?
He got a lot more personal than I expected. I thought we’d talk about health care reform. James wanted to talk about biography, too.
Why do you think he’s running for office? Do you think he’s using this campaign to “clear the air”?
I think he really wants to be in the U.S. Senate. Bottom line, that’s why he’s running. But as I point out, a byproduct of the race is that it’s a chance for James to try to re-introduce himself to Texans on better terms.
What’s behind the “Real Street” campaign rhetoric?
Partly, it’s James’s way of getting into his biography. He had a tough childhood in and around Houston. He wants voters to know he built himself into the guy we know as a football star, announcer, and businessman. And partly I think “Real Street” helps brand James as a tea party guy—an outsider, unlike David Dewhurst et al. He told me Washington has enough lawyers and politicians already.
Do you think he has any chance of winning the Senate seat? Why or why not?
I try not to make predictions about politics. They’re only slightly worse than my predictions about sports.
Fair enough. Does James have a future in Texas politics?
A prominent GOP consultant told me that, if James doesn’t win, he’d be a logical candidate to run for a U.S. House seat in North Texas. He could challenge an entrenched Republican from the right. And he’d be very formidable. He could be like Steve Largent, the former NFL wide receiver who represented Oklahoma in the House.
Is there anything you wanted to include in your story but didn’t have room for?
Craig’s real name is Jesse. Jesse James. Wait, how did I not include that?
What do you want readers to take away from your story?
I wanted to take a guy who’d been in the news a lot and give readers a sense of what he’s thinking and why he’s running.