After former Missouri Tigers defensive lineman Michael Sam, 24, on Sunday revealed that he was gay, some questioned whether his prospects in the NFL would be hurt by the revelation.
Longtime Texas sportscaster Dale Hansen is hoping that’s not the case. He shared an essay on his show this week that has gone viral.
Hansen speaks to Here & Now’s Robin Young about why Michael Sam should be celebrated and gay players should be welcomed in the NFL.
Interview Highlights: Dale Hansen
On feedback he’s received about his remarks
“I was expecting a great deal of negative backlash, and I’ve actually had very little. I’ve had more than 2,600 emails sent to me from almost every state in the union, from Australia, from England, and 95 percent have been supportive, and that’s been not only gratifying, but quite honestly, it’s been somewhat surprising.”
“I do think my contribution was being perceived as a guy from a very conservative state who’s simply an old white guy, and I think it surprised a lot of people that I took this stance, and I think that elevated the debate so that, as you say, it went viral.”
On his hopes for acceptance of gay players
“I do think there’s just a big difference between being in that proverbial closet and being open. I think it’s gonna be a hard road for Michael Sam, but what I am encouraged by is just listening to him talk. He seems to be a young man of great character, of great inner-strength, and if somebody has to pick up this sword and lead this fight, he might be one of the most well-equipped young men to do it. And I certainly hope so, because as we saw in the SportsIllustrated.com article, eight different NFL officials — quoted anonymously, of course — saying that they would not be comfortable with a gay man in the locker room, and yet, they welcome so many others who have committed such heinous crimes. And it just offends me, the hypocrisy of that position. I’m hoping that, obviously, that will begin to change.”
- Dale Hansen, sports anchor for WFAA-TV, the ABC affiliate in Dallas, Texas. He also hosts “Dale Hansen’s Sports Special” on Sundays. He tweets @dalehansen.
ROBIN YOUNG, HOST:
Well, there's been a lot of reaction this week to the revelation from Missouri defensive lineman and NFL prospect Michael Sam that he is gay. Teammates in his school tweeted support. But some NFL scouts, speaking anonymously to Sports Illustrated, said this would hurt Michael Sam's chances in the spring's NFL draft, to which WFAA Dallas sportscaster Dale Hansen had a response.
Now Dale is old-school. He's 65. He used to be an analyst for the Dallas Cowboys. He's now a sportscaster. Did we mention he's in conservative Texas. We want to make sure you are in full-boar stereotype alert when you hear his essay, and we're going to hear most of it.
He begins in kind of a jocular, sportscasty way, by setting up the scouts' thinking that Sam's draft chances will be hurt, and then he drops this hammer.
DALE HANSEN: 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. It wasn't that long ago when we were being told that black players couldn't play in our games because it would be uncomfortable. And even when they finally could, it took several more years before a black man played quarterback because we weren't comfortable with that either.
So many of the same people who used to make that argument, and the many who still do, are the same people who say government should stay out of our lives but then want government in our bedrooms. I've never understood how they feel comfortable laying claim to both sides of that argument.
I'm not always comfortable when a man tells me he's gay; I don't understand his world, but I do understand that he's part of mine. Civil rights activist Audre Lord said it is not our differences that divide us, it is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.
YOUNG: And the crowd went wild. Dale Hansen joins us from his home in Dallas. Dale, what's been the response?
HANSEN: Well, it has been an overwhelming response, and as you mentioned, in conservative Texas, and for the most part I think in many ways in conservative America, I was expecting a great deal of negative backlash, and I've actually had very little. I've had more than 2,600 emails sent to me from almost every state in the union, from Australia, from England, and 95 percent have been very supportive.
And that's been not only gratifying, but quite honestly it's been somewhat surprising.
YOUNG: Well, you went viral, and as you said, you're not used to even getting phone messages.
HANSEN: Well, and that's the other thing that's actually a little strange to me. Yesterday I got 27 phone messages. And as you mentioned, it did go viral, which I'm going to have to figure out what that means someday.
HANSEN: I'm not really a high-tech social media kind of person. As you mentioned, I'm a little bit old-school. And I do think my contribution was being perceived as being a guy from a very conservative state, who's simply an old white guy, and I think it surprised a lot of people that I took this stance, and I think that elevated the debate so that, as you say, it went viral. And I really do wish I knew what that meant.
YOUNG: Well, it means a lot of people saw it. But, you know, part of me thinks shame on those of us who were bracing when we got sent your essay in an email or in a tweet. Shame on us for bracing for the worst because of a stereotype we had of older white men from Texas.
HANSEN: Yeah, well, but this has been a longstanding problem. And again, that's why I loved the quote of Audre Lord. You know, we recognize our differences, but we don't accept our differences, and we certainly don't celebrate our differences. And I think it's been one of the biggest problems is that we simply make assumptions instead of trying to figure out who people really are.
YOUNG: Well, and I have to ask you as somebody who has this long affiliation with football, do you think, as some are saying, that this is, in other ways, the end of an hypocrisy, that people have always known that there were gay players? I mean, you're close with the sport. And also, what do you think the impact is going to be?
HANSEN: Well, I'm anxious to see what the impacts will actually be. I don't think people did now. I mean, some people obviously did because we've had players come out after the fact. But I think there's a huge leap between being a gay player and being hidden, and the huge leap to being an openly gay player. And I think it's the same thing for the fans.
I don't think many fans, who were cheering Jerry Smith and a few others along the way, knew at that time that he was gay. Now after the fact it's somewhat easy to say, well, you know, I really liked him as a player, I didn't have a problem with him as a player, but I do think there's just a big difference between being in that proverbial closet and being open.
And I think it's going to be a hard road for Michael Sam. What I am encouraged by is just listening to him talk. He seems to be young man of great character, of great inner strength. And if somebody has to pick up this sword and lead this fight, he might be one of the most well-equipped young men to do it, and I certainly hope so because I think as we saw in the SportsIllustrated.com article, eight different NFL officials, quoted anonymously of course, saying that they would not be comfortable with a gay man in a locker room, and yet they welcome so many others who have committed such heinous crimes.
And it just offends me the hypocrisy of that position. I'm hoping that obviously that will begin to change.
YOUNG: Well Dale Hansen, you said Michael Sam is the perfect person to take on this challenge. He will have you by his side, and it's quite something. Thanks so much for speaking with us about it.
HANSEN: I appreciate it very much, thank you.
YOUNG: Well, and we appreciate his coming on. We had to fight Ellen DeGeneres for him. You can see him on her show this afternoon. And we'll link you to his commentary at hereandnow.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.