People and Lifestyle

The Progressive Voice Bursting From Texas and Spreading Everywhere


What he had to say most recently was a bit about the national anthem protests in the N.F.L. But what has made Hansen’s words reverberate, both in conservative North Texas and elsewhere, is that his resounding voice often delivers a point of view one might not expect from a local TV newsman: a progressive one.

Hansen Unplugged: Anthem protests not about disrespecting the flag Video by WFAA

Hansen’s latest commentary — in which he presented his Texas audience with a heartfelt defense of black Americans’ protests and an indictment of “white privilege” — was just the latest in a recurring segment, called “Hansen: Unplugged,” that has run on WFAA for years. He says he writes the segments in about 10 minutes and delivers them in about three, but only, he said, when he feels strongly that he has something to say. For Hansen, that’s about eight to 10 times a year.

His talks are topical. Nearly all are personal. In previous ones, he has revealed racism in his hometown, his daughter’s long-ago rape as a college student, and even his own experience as a 10-year-old victim of sexual abuse.

In a 2014 piece supporting Michael Sam, a commentary that received national attention and landed him on Ellen DeGeneres’s television show, Hansen pilloried N.F.L. teams and fans for what he saw as a double standard.

“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 draft,” he said. Caught with drugs? Kill someone driving drunk? Rape a woman? People are O.K. with that, he said.

“You love another man?” Hansen said. “Well, now you’ve gone too far!”

Hansen Unplugged: Celebrating our differences (Dale Hansen – WFAA) Video by WFAA

The riffs have made Hansen something of an outlier: a local newsman with a national voice, a champion for social issues in a stick-to-sports world, a liberal voice in a deeply red state that’s as passionate about its sports as it is its politics.

Here in Texas, mixing those two religions is nearly a sin, but the cocky Hansen revels in taking on sacred cows, saying, “Oh, well, I’m agnostic anyway.”

The truth is he realizes that he is in the perfect position, at the perfect time in his life, to say what he believes.

“If I was 33 years old and looked like Tom Cruise and lived in Los Angeles, do you think anyone would listen to me?” he said. “I can’t really explain why people listen to me. But I do know some people are thinking, Who is this fat, old, white sports guy and why is he telling me what to do? I don’t fit the stereotype.”

In other ways, though, he’s a typical Texan. He lives with his wife, Chris, on a 39-acre ranch that also is home to three Longhorns, six dogs, two horses, two mini horses and one mini donkey named Edward R. Burro. He has a home office stuffed with awards honoring his journalism and photos documenting his career.

Many days, before he drives to Dallas to tape the 6 and 10 p.m. news, he often plays cards with a group of buddies at a local golf club, gambling maybe a couple hundred bucks and chatting about the world. It is at those tables, he knows, where he hones the arguments that he later presents on TV.

“I’ll say something that gets them mad and they’ll say, ‘You’re nothing but a goddamn liberal,’” Hansen said. “And I laugh and say, ‘Gee, I thought you’d say something really bad.’”

Hansen has done little to promote, or embrace, his rising social media celebrity, though it seems to grow a little every time he opens his mouth. He rarely updates his own Twitter and Facebook accounts, leaving it to his granddaughter, who is 24, to call him and say, “Grandpa, you blew up on Twitter!” It is her opinion of him that matters, he said, her respect that makes him proudest.

Growing up in Iowa, Hansen said, he never would have dreamed he would be the orator he has become, or have the perspective that he shares so freely now. His father, a trucker who owned his own company, thought all black people — except the one black family he knew personally — were basically worthless. Hansen said he “heard the N-word” every day as a kid, so much so, he said, that he thought it was Hank Aaron’s first name.

It makes sense, then, when Hansen tells you he once wrote an English paper titled, “Let’s face the facts: Negroes are just plain troublemakers.” But he says it is those same life experiences that explain his political and cultural evolution.

“I’m attracted to diversity because I had none in my life,” he said. “I like people who challenge me, who aren’t the same as me.”

That may be why Hansen, a Texas institution, has resonated nationally. Agree with Hansen or not, it’s good for all of us that he is allowed to have his say. Sure, Hansen is aware that some viewers tune in just to get angry with him. But he says his goal is not merely to stake out contrarian turf, or to poke at those who might disagree with him.

Like the N.F.L. players he talked about last week, he said, he is trying to spur a discussion, to make people think, to challenge what they believe. That can be emotional sometimes. It certainly is for Hansen.

Hansen cried when he told me the story of his childhood best friend, who was killed, at 18, in Vietnam. Hansen, who served a stateside hitch in the Navy back then, wiped away tears as he called his friend the best third baseman that ever lived. But he also evoked his memory on TV last week when he talked about the national anthem, saying, “He did not die so that you can decide who is a patriot and who loves America more.”

Hansen has been around long enough, and has seen enough, to know that.

Lucky for us, he’s happy to tell everyone about it.

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