The legendary sportscaster became an accidental voice for equality when his producer suggested he comment on air about openly gay football player Michael Sam

DAVID TAFFET | Senior Staff Writer
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Driving to the 2014 Black Tie Dinner to receive the Media Award, sportscaster Dale Hansen’s wife said to him, “How the hell did you become the voice of gay rights in America?”

“I don’t go looking for these things,” Hansen said.

Hansen drew national attention in 2014 when he delivered a commentary about openly-gay football player Michael Sam. He said his producer actually suggested he do the piece.

In college, Texas native Sam was the best defensive player in the toughest college league, but he wasn’t drafted by an NFL team until the last round. In his commentary, Hansen compared the reaction both by the public and NFL officials to Sam’s coming out (it made people uncomfortable) to those same people’s reactions to players who abused their wives (that was somehow OK). And he likened a gay man on a team of straight players to the first blacks who joined otherwise white teams.

This weekend, Cathedral of Hope honors Hansen with its Hero of Hope Award for taking a stand for equality. How does he feel about that?

“Well, I’m not one to turn down an award,” he joked.

Hansen has been a sportscaster at WFAA Channel 8 since 1983. Before that he spent several years at KDFW, at that time the local CBS affiliate. He’s been named Associated Press Sportscaster of the Year twice, United Press International’s Best Sportscaster and Texas Sportscaster of the Year four times.

In 1986, he broke a story about payments being made to players on Southern Methodist University’s football team. His reporting led to the NCAA canceling SMU’s 1987 season. He received a Peabody Award for his coverage — as well as a number of death threats.

But LGBT rights hero?

“I’m not that courageous,” Hansen said. “Others have done so much more.”

He said he’d spoken about domestic violence and racism before, but no piece of commentary before had ever sparked the kind reaction he got after the Michael Sam commentary. There’s possibly never been a reaction like that to any piece by a sports commentator.

Hansen called it the perfect storm: An out gay man who was defensive player of the year was beginning a career in America’s most popular sport. Had Sam been an out tennis player or even baseball player, would he have done the commentary? He’s not sure he would have.

And 2014 was a year before the Obergefell marriage equality decision. LGBT issues were constantly on the front page.

The video of Hansen’s on-air commentary went viral. Hansen, who refers to himself as the “old, fat, white guy from Dallas,” said the piece wouldn’t have had the same impact coming from a young, fit sportscaster from L.A.

The Dallas sportscaster was featured in People magazine, Newsweek and more. Within days, he was flying out to Los Angeles to appear on Ellen Degeneres’ show.

Hansen had ended his commentary with, “I don’t understand his world, but I understand he’s part of mine.” Degeneres told him she thought that last line had the most impact.

Hansen explained he doesn’t understand the attraction of one man to another. “It’s not for me to understand,” he said, “but for me to accept.”

But whether or not he understands the attraction, he said he always understood the discrimination. And since the commentary aired, he said, he has come to an ever greater understanding.

At a sales kickoff event at the station soon after the piece aired, Hansen said, a friend that he works with told him, “My dad called me last night.” Two hadn’t spoken in 12 years, since the father threw the son out of the house for being gay. After seeing Hansen’s commentary, the dad told his son that if it was OK for that fat, old, white guy, it was good enough for him.

And four years later, the commentary is still having an impact. Hansen was recently at a friend’s house for dinner. He describes that friend as “my most conservative friend who finds Fox News just a little too liberal.” One of the other guests was gay. He said to his friend that a few years ago that never would have happened and his friend agreed, crediting Hansen.

WFAA is owned by a different company now than when the commentary aired. He said at a recent meeting management was discussing what can be said on the air and what can’t. Hansen said it was basically the same as always.

Another reporter pointed out, “Hansen says those things all the time.”

“Yeah, but that’s Hansen,” was the response.

“I do sports,” Hansen said. “I do it my way.”

And his way isn’t to please everyone all the time. He said that’s impossible.

Hansen said that not pleasing everyone is exactly how Trump got elected. He told his supporters during the campaign that Muslims were terrorists and Mexicans were rapists and never apologized or backed down.

On the other hand, when Hillary Clinton used the term “basket of deplorables,” she was crucified and ended up spending weeks finding a way to apologize to people who were never going to vote for her anyway.

“She should have stood her ground,” Hansen said.

So Hansen doesn’t back down. If he’s chiding Jerry Jones for employing a domestic abuser, he’s not going to apologize just because some people believe the team needs that abusive player. And that makes some of his viewers angry.

But it’s also what makes his fans — and some of his detractors — tune in every night.

He said he recently heard from a woman who told him she stopped watching him years ago. When he asked why, she gave him examples from the previous night’s show. He asked her how she knew what he said the night before if she hadn’t watched in years. Seems her husband still watches Hansen, and she just happened to be walking through the room when he came on camera.

She caught every word of his three-and-a-half minute spot, of course while trying to avoid him.

“One of the reasons I’ve survived so long is I never try to please everybody,” Hansen reiterated. When someone tells him they wish he’d just give the sports scores, he tells them to turn on Channel 5.

“I’m proud of where my life’s taken me,” he said.

As a sports reporter, Hansen said it was ironic that he’s considered a hero among gay men who are probably less likely to be sports fans than the population in general. But he said he’s very honored that so many do. In fact, he credits a gay man — Michael Sam — with changing his life.

“He took my world to whole other place,” Hansen said.

A reception for Hero of Hope winner Hansen will be held on Aug. 25 at the Hilton Dallas Park Cities, 5954 Luther Lane and the award will be presented during the 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. Sunday worship service on Sunday, Aug. 26 at Cathedral of Hope, 5910 Cedar Springs Road. Tickets to the Saturday reception are available at CathedralofHope.com/anniversary/hero-of-hope.