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Local Dallas Sportscaster Goes Viral For His 'Unplugged' Commentary


Next we're going to learn about a local TV guy in Dallas who has repeatedly been an Internet sensation. He gets that attention for his on-air editorials. He's not the station's news anchor nor the political commentator. He's a sportscaster. NPR's Wade Goodwyn is in Dallas and picks it up from here.

WADE GOODWYN, BYLINE: WFAA sportscaster Dale Hansen had been doing his unplugged commentaries for decades. It was no big deal, but that began to change in early 2014 after a star defensive end at the University of Missouri, Michael Sam, confirmed to the world he was gay. Sam was about to be a top draft pick. It was big news. And that afternoon, Hansen's boss stuck his head in his office and suggested maybe he'd like to write something.

DALE HANSEN: And I said, what would I write about? And I said, I'm not even sure what I'd say.

GOODWYN: But that evening on the long drive home to Waxahachie, Hansen listened to sports talk.

HANSEN: So I'm driving home, and I'm listening to all the different radio stations, as I always do. And I'm hearing some of these most outlandish comments.

GOODWYN: What he was hearing really ticked him off. By the time he pulled into his driveway, Hansen already had his commentary written in his head. It was his reply to all those callers.


HANSEN: Missouri's All-American defensive end Michael Sam, the SEC's defensive player of the year and expected to be a third to fifth round pick in the NFL draft, tells the world he's gay. Several NFL officials telling Sports Illustrated it will hurt him on draft day because a gay player wouldn't be welcome in an NFL locker room because that's a man's world. You beat a woman and drag her down a flight of stairs, pulling her hair out by the roots - you're the fourth guy taken in the NFL draft. You kill people while driving drunk - that guy's welcome. Players caught in hotel rooms with illegal drugs and prostitutes - we know they're welcome. You love another man - well, now you've gone too far.

GOODWYN: The commentary went viral on YouTube. It wasn't just the quality of the writing and delivery. It was also Hansen's appearance. Who was this 64-year-old rotund sportscaster in Dallas? From the right came jeering and vows to swear off Hansen's sportscasts forever, but from the left came enthusiastic support. He got invited to be on Ellen DeGeneres' show.


ELLEN DEGENERES: Well, speaking as a gay person, it - we really do need people like you. We need heterosexual people that speak out and say...

GOODWYN: Hansen had broken big stories in his career but had never experienced celebrity on this scale before. He decided he was just getting started. After a racist incident at a high school in the Dallas suburb of Flower Mound, Hansen went at it again.


HANSEN: Kids on the Flower Mound side were seen holding up signs saying white power, and too many parents and apparently others who care tried to defend what you cannot defend. There's a history in Flower Mound. When my granddaughter who went to Lewisville High would be at a game in Flower Mound, she and her friends would hear the chant, welfare babies, do you know who your daddy is, because we know ours.

GOODWYN: Hansen's little history lesson was an extraordinary public shaming of a local high school, but then the commentary took a turn. Hansen said he didn't blame the kids holding the white power signs.


HANSEN: Maybe because I used to one of those kids. I was raised in a small Iowa farm town that had only one black family in the county and raised by a man who used the N word like it was a proper noun. I think I was 12 before I realized that the N word actually wasn't the first name of Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Elston Howard and so many more. But he loved the Matthews family. My dad always said they were different. The one black family he knew were good people. All the others he didn't know, they were the bad people.

GOODWYN: A small town Iowa boy, college wasn't in the works for Dale Hansen. Instead, he enlisted in the Navy. Then he knocked around in sales, bank loan applications, finally ended up a radio deejay, which he hated, and eventually moved to TV. Without a college degree, he couldn't be a news reporter, but he could be a sportscaster. And for the last 35 years, he's been at WFAA in Dallas. And it's this long relationship between Hansen and his audience that reassures station management.

SEAN HAMILTON: Sometimes, yes. Sometimes he makes us a little nervous.

GOODWYN: Sean Hamilton is the director of sports at WFAA. He says Hansen sets the station apart.

HAMILTON: We have decided that we're really looking to give our viewers something different than what they'll see on other stations. And, you know, it also helps us with our female audience, too.

GOODWYN: And now, Hansen's begun opining on subjects that have no sports connection whatsoever. After five Dallas police officers were ambushed and killed during a peaceful protest march two years ago, Hansen advocated for modest gun control measures. Despite a furious response from Second Amendment supporters, Hansen was undeterred. So after the shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School two months ago...


HANSEN: Another high school shooting yesterday, this one in Florida; 17 dead the last report I saw. And everybody sends their thoughts and prayers again because that works so well. If it was a Muslim or a Mexican doing the shooting, how many new laws and how much money would we spend then to stop the madness? But since it's almost always a white kid, there's just nothing we can do. Last time, I said we need to find a way to stop it, not with a gun. And that's all I said. I get an email saying I'm saving my last bullet to put it right between your eyes. Just another responsible gun owner in America, and I'm taking all bets he's a white guy. So there's just nothing we can do.

GOODWYN: At 68 years old, Dale Hansen is approaching the end of his sportscasting career. It's questionable whether the unique latitude he enjoys and his singular voice in local broadcast news will be seen and heard again after he's gone. Wade Goodwyn, NPR News, Dallas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Wade Goodwyn is an NPR National Desk Correspondent covering Texas and the surrounding states.