Dallas’ WFAA Channel 8 sports caster Dale Hansen’s commentary on the NFL went viral recently when he pointed out the hypocrisy of NFL officials not being “comfortable” accepting a gay man in the locker room despite allowing players onto teams with violent and disturbing criminal histories.
Since the segment was released on Monday, February 10, the day after Michael Sam came out publicly, it has turned Hansen into a prominent voice in the heated debate about sexuality in football.
Hansen spoke with 429Magazine to explain what led him to speak out about the issue.
429Magazine: What was it that inspired you to do the segment in the first place?
Dale Hansen: Basically just the topic itself. I don’t do the traditional sportscast and I’m always looking for a good social topic to write about. I think the point for this one that really moved me to want to write it was the blatant hypocrisy of the NFL officials who were being quoted in the Sports Illustrated article.
These officials were saying this would hurt him even in the draft. And the key word for me, which I used in my commentary a lot, was that we wouldn’t be “comfortable” with a gay player in the locker room. Which then just led me to the thought of “really? That’s your problem?” That was the flashpoint to write it. But it wasn’t like I was trying to lead the crusade on Michael Sam or anything. I just thought it was a very good topic to write about.
I love to write about sports but I do step over into the social side of life as much as I can. It was tying into the NFL and it was a social issue that everyone in America was arguing about. I do like to take the opportunity to use the form I have to spark the debate when I can so it seems to have worked.
429Mag: How do you feel about the reactions you’ve been getting?
Hansen: That, for me has been the most amazing thing. I’ve been seriously stunned by the volume of the reaction I’ve been getting. A friend of mine asked me at lunch “How much of a reaction are you getting? What did you expect?” And I told him I thought I’d have about ten emails saying “way to go Dale” and about thirty saying “you’re going to burn in hell.” Instead, I’ve gotten over 800. I’ve heard from 16 different states in the country. I’ve heard from Canada, I’ve heard from London. So I’m stunned that it has moved so many people to comment to that extent.
What has really shocked me, especially in Texas, is the overwhelming positive response I’ve gotten. I’ve gotten responses from 50 and 60 year old men identifying as white and conservative and yet they believe in equality for gays. That they support Michael Sam’s right to play in the NFL based on athletic abilities rather than sexual orientation.
Honestly, I didn’t expect that much of a positive response.
429Mag: You were quick to point out the irony of being all hot and bothered about introducing a gay player to the NFL. Would you consider yourself pro-LGBT rights?
Hansen: It’s probably not at the top of my morning agenda but I’ve long been an advocate and supporter of gay rights. I’ve always thought that gays should have the right to marry. They have every right to be as unhappy as most of us are in our marriages.
It just seems incredibly unfair that we push these people into a closet. I have an old high school buddy of mine who is gay and I work with several people here who are gay. I know some of their struggles, some of their fears and some of their concerns but I’m not trying to lead the way or take credit for anything with my commentary. I just happen to see a sports story that tied in to the hypocrisy of the NFL and fans who are welcoming thugs and criminals but then they tell me that they’re uncomfortable with a man that happens to be gay. I just find that wrong on so many levels.
I’m one of the few liberals in Texas so when I get a chance to speak out I do.
429Mag: Do you come from a pro-gay family or has your opinion changed over time and with more exposure?
Hansen: I grew up in this all-white community in Iowa. I was a very conservative man. My parents and friends were very conservative. But, my whole life flipped upside down when I was 19 years old and joined the Navy. I was exposed.
All my buddies would go off to the service and they’d come back home and say hanging around with black guys was just horrible. But then I joined the Navy.
As trite as it sounds, I was once sitting in this little bar. We’re all sitting there having beers, listening to music and flirting with the waitresses and these five black guys came in sitting across us in another booth. And they’re listening to Sam Cook and James Brown and they’re flirting with the waitresses. They’re laughing and having a good time. My friend looks over at them and says “look at them–they’re loud and they’re obnoxious and they’re flirting with the waitresses and they’re playing their music real loud.” So I looked at this guy and said, “you mean just like us?” So after that I got up, walked over and said to them “can I join you? I happen to enjoy Sam Cook.” They all laughed and I sat down.
That was the beginning of this metamorphosis of the stupid young kid from Iowa.
429Mag: During the segment, you said, “I’m not always comfortable when a man tells me he’s gay, I don’t understand his world, but I do understand he’s a part of mine.” Many people can relate to this sentiment. But did you think it could have been misconstrued?
Hansen: I honestly sat at my desk for a long time reading the piece and there was nervousness. I was afraid of that line. Of it being misunderstood. I just thought I absolutely had to be as honest about this as I could.
As I said in the commentary, I don’t understand the gay world. I’m not always comfortable. But it wasn’t meant in an offensive way, it was meant in an honest way. I think with a lot of heterosexual men when someone tells them they’re gay, there’s an immediate…“really?” To me the most important part of that is getting to the “yeah, ok” part and I always have and I always do.
I’ve heard from dozens of people who said that line touched them more than many of the others because they knew it was real. Gay and straight people alike have responded in a positive way to that. It wasn’t meant to discredit or diminish. It was honest.
I am going to celebrate your life, I am going to accept your life, I am going to recognise our differences and celebrate them.
429Mag: Are you hopeful that future generations will begin to break down this common discomfort surrounding the LGBT community?
Hansen: I don’t think there’s any doubt that it will. As I said in the commentary I have to believe that the day will come. Will it come soon enough for the satisfaction of the people directly involved in the struggle? Probably not. Will it come from my grandchildren? I think so.
I’ve gotten a little bit of criticism because I compared it to the civil rights movement. But I’m not saying it’s the same struggle. I just think it’s the same argument.
We’re already seeing that breaking down of acceptance. If we look back 20 years I think we’ve made some great strides in that area. As I said, maybe not to the complete satisfaction of those involved in the circle but it’s a hell of a lot better than it used to be.
I absolutely think that men like Michael Sam can do a great deal more than anybody with the spoken word. If he steps up and says I’m a guy and I play football, the stereotypes so many of these bigots apply to gay men in America has just been shattered. I think we need that.
I think he’s going to lift the boat for gay America if he can become a member of the NFL good old boys fraternity.
429Mag: You are sometimes criticised for expressing your opinions with a somewhat brutal honesty. Do you think your comments about the reality of some NFL players’ criminal history is something you will be revered for or do you think the honesty was necessary for the delivery of your message?
Hansen: I think it was absolutely necessary. I think that was the point.
It wasn’t a revelation that NFL welcomes criminals to its fraternity, but that was the brightest spotlight on the whole thing.
How can you as an NFL official sit there and tell me a gay man is not welcome in the NFL because you would be uncomfortable with that man in your locker room? And then tell me “I drove drunk and I killed this guy and I’m going back to the NFL but how can you question my character?” Really?
There won’t be any blowback from the so-called criminal element of the NFL. I’ve been talking about that for years. How are they going to defend themselves?
I think that was the defining reason I wrote it. I just thought it was common sense.
429Mag: You referred to the NFL officials’ idea of the “man’s world” that they seem determined to maintain, which apparently excludes welcoming gay men. Why do you think there is even more controversy surrounding gay men in the NFL compared to sports like soccer and the NBA for example?
Hansen: I’m not saying it’s right but the NBA players and soccer players are running about in shorts with a great deal more finesse whereas football is portrayed in America as this violently brutal sport. It’s a stereotype of football being this raw, brutal, physical man-on-man warfare that lends itself to the image that you can’t be gay to play this game; you can’t be soft to play this game.
429Mag: Putting aside the controversy surrounding his sexuality, in your personal sporting opinion, do you believe Michael Sam is a worthy NFL draft candidate? And do you think he could go far?
Hansen: I certainly think he’s a worthy NFL candidate. If you’re playing in the best football conference in America, then I have to think you’re worthy of the NFL. But there are also a lot of great players who come out of college and just can’t make it at the NFL level. I honestly don’t know enough about Michael Sam’s physical skills to give a blanket statement.
But people could end up questioning whether it will be a football decision or if it will be turned into a sexual orientation decision. I’d hate to see that happen.
I’m anxious to see what happens. Not only in the draft, which will be very interesting, because I think he’s going to slide backwards. I believe these guys when they say it will hurt him on draft day.
But if you’re asking about his character and integrity, I think every league in the NFL should want that guy. I would love to see this guy get the chance. If he can’t play he can’t play, there’s no shame in that but I certainly will support him if he does get the chance, and I think he will.