Dale Hansen told a friend he figured he’d get 40 e-mails following his piece for WFAA TV in Dallas-Forth Worth, Tx., on Michael Sam and the media coverage the NFL-bound player has gotten since he publicly came out on Sunday.
“And 10 of them will be ‘way to go, Dale,’ and 30 of them will be railing on me pretty hard,” Hansen told Poynter in a phone interview.
But that’s not what happened. As of Thursday afternoon, Hansen’s gotten more than 1,000 e-mails from people in 16 states, one from a boy in Canada, one from a man in London. Maybe 30 of those e-mails do the railing, he said.
His commentary, broadcast Feb. 10, took on the idea that bringing a gay player into locker rooms would make his teammates “uncomfortable.”
Players accused of rape and pay the woman to go away?
You lie to police trying to cover up a murder?
We’re comfortable with that.
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.
He didn’t think this message would resonate the way it has, Hansen said. But it does make sense to him.
“How can you not be comfortable?” he said. “How can you not welcome this man when you welcome so many others? It seemed like a really simple argument to me. It seems like basic common sense.”
It hasn’t always been, though, for Hansen. He grew up in a small, conservative farm town in Iowa, he said. Hansen wrote an essay his senior year in high school entitled “Let’s face the fact, negros are plain trouble makers.”
It was a vile piece of crap, his teacher told him, but well-written and argued. Hansen got an A-. After high school, he joined the Navy and started meeting more people who weren’t just like him.
One night at a small bar in Maryland, piled into a booth with four buddies, Hansen and his friends sat listening to the small jukebox, slamming drinks, flirting with the waitresses. A group of five or six young black men came in. They piled into a booth, turned on the music, started slamming drinks and flirting with the waitresses, too.
One of Hansen’s friends didn’t like that. They were obnoxious, too loud.
“And I said, you mean like us.”
Hansen got up.
“And I walked across the room and I said, guys, do you mind if I join you? And I sat down and my life slowly began to change.”
Hansen has gotten a little criticism for comparing civil rights to what gay people now face. And it’s not the same, he said.
“I do think, in my opinion, that was an even harder struggle,” he said. “But I do think the same argument applies.”
After his commentary aired, one of his colleagues grabbed his hand.
“‘Hansen, I hadn’t really thought of it that way,’” Hansen said the man told him. “And he says, ‘you’ve made me rethink the whole thing,’ and just turned and walked away.”