Publication / The Hill
December 14, 2018
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Top lawyer at Interior once said women shouldn’t be NFL referees because they PMS

A top government lawyer for Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke once said in recently surfaced online comments that female cops have an “inferiority complex” and that the NFL should not allow a “power tripping woman with a case of PMS” to officiate football games.

James Voyles, who serves as senior counsel in the Office of the Secretary at the Interior Department, argued in now deleted Facebook posts from 2011, a year after he graduated from college, that women shouldn’t be allowed to work as referees in NFL games because they would control “the last male sanctuary.” When contacted by The Hill on Thursday, Voyles apologized for the remarks.

“I offer my sincere apologies for the statements made on social media several years ago. I have nothing but the upmost respect for the brave women in uniform and am grateful for their service,” he said Thursday through an Interior Department spokesperson. “These statements were written seven years ago, were flippant social media posts, and do not reflect who I am or what I stand for. As a husband to a strong wife, a father to a wonderful daughter, and as a dedicated co-worker and friend, I regret these remarks and value and respect the women in my life.”

Voyles’s comments in 2011 were in response to a post asking people to weigh in on the NFL’s announcement that it was considering allowing women to officiate NFL games.

“Do we really want to let a power tripping woman with a case of PMS from hell controlling the last male sanctuary? i submit that i do not!” Voyles wrote at the time.

The NFL hired Sarah Thomas, its first full-time female official, in April 2015.

The NBA hired its first female referee in 1997, and women began officiating college football games in 2017. A woman has not umpired an MLB game.

Voyles backed up his opposition to female referees in the NFL by making a comparison to women who are police officers.

“Has anyone here ever meet a female cop? have you ever had that distinct and degrading experience of being interrogated by that kind of inferiority complex? do we really want to open that can of worms on the NFL?” he asked.

In another post, Voyles said female referees would have a negative impact on the game’s dynamic.

“One small and dramatic example in a list of many is that social rules will dictate that she will not be using the same locker room as the other officials, she will miss out on time with the crew that they have together which will create differences between them,” Voyles wrote.

He added that the league would have to make special permissions for her, which would draw attention to the official and bring negative attention to the game.

“The next thing you know she will be making demands that will spawn the creation of a formation of a female officials union, and then all hell will break lose cause unions=hell:) sorry for the drama but you see the direction im going in,” he wrote.

Voyles, 34, joined the Interior Department in January. He previously worked as senior director and policy counsel for the Consumer Energy Alliance, a group that advocates on behalf of energy providers.

“This is not a departmental matter,” an Interior Department spokesperson said in response to a request for comment from The Hill. “Since day one, Mr. Voyles has always proven to be highly capable, personable, professional, and has the respect of his colleagues.”

Voyles received his undergraduate degree from Brigham Young University in 2010 and graduated from Syracuse University College of Law in 2014, according to his LinkedIn page.

At least one other Interior Department employee has come under criticism this year for online comments that were made before joining the agency. Deputy press secretary Faith Vander Voort came under fire in July for comments she made in a 2015 blog post where she argued that a Muslim “could never serve” as president of the United States.

The newly surfaced comments from Voyles come as the Interior Department is fighting to change its image when it comes to harassment. In October, the agency suspended or reprimanded more than 1,500 employees for harassment or misconduct between 2017 and 2018, according to an internal email obtained by The Hill.

The actions were part of the department’s yearlong effort to enforce greater accountability, Interior Deputy Secretary David Bernhardt told employees in a staff-wide email.

“From day one, [Interior] Secretary [Ryan] Zinke and I have been committed to leaving the Department in better shape than we found it; this includes addressing employee misconduct and harassment and improving our ethics program,” Bernhardt wrote in October.

A December 2017 survey conducted by the Interior Department found that 35 percent of its employees were either harassed or discriminated against at work in the previous 12 months.

Interior’s National Park Service has been at the center of the anti-harassment push at the department. Nearly 40 percent of Park Service employees reported having been harassed in some way in the previous 12 months, according to a report released in October 2017.