On the latest edition of the National Podcast of Texas, Dallas-based sportscaster Dale Hansen talks about the NFL’s anthem policy; his relationship with Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones; Trump and LeBron; and his own sometimes controversial second act as a viral video star. The foundations of that second act have been Hansen’s “Unplugged” segments—occasional opinion pieces that have used sports news as a springboard toward real talk about racism, sexual abuse, and gun culture. Last year, the New York Times took notice and described him as “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.”
In Hansen’s most recent “Unplugged” takedown, of Jones, he said of the Cowboys’ zero-tolerance policy on protest, “It’s incredible to me that a player can beat up a woman and play for the Dallas Cowboys. A player can use illegal drugs, time and time again, and still play. But you take a knee to protest the racial injustice in America, and now you’ve crossed a line that he will not allow.”
Hansen had plenty more to say in our podcast. You’ll find an edited transcript of some of his strongest statements below.
On NFL protests:
I don’t think it has anything to do with the flag, and I don’t think it ever has had anything to do with that flag. As I said in a commentary a year ago when this all started up, basically, the big flashpoint started when Trump made his comments in Alabama. And the next thing you know, the Cowboys are kneeling on the sideline in Arizona. This has always been about protesting racial injustice. And the problem with protesting is that anything that you don’t care about or anything that you don’t agree with is always a problem. I mean, it is very simple. These players have brought attention to the problem. How else would they do it? I’ve had people tell me, well, “they can protest in the locker room”—that will bring a great deal of attention to the problem. “They could do it on their time off.” What can a player do on Tuesday that would focus attention on the problem the way [protesting on the field] has? I mean, do you really think the NFL has agreed to spend millions and millions of dollars addressing racial injustice in America if there hadn’t been this protest?
Protest is uncomfortable. The very definition of a protest makes you uncomfortable. And as I said in that commentary, Rosa Parks was told to find another bus. You know, James Meredith was told to find another university. The young black people who sat down at the Walgreens counter hoping to order lunch were told to find another place to eat. The people who marched across the bridge in Selma were told to block another street. I mean, every protest that you don’t agree with or you don’t support or you don’t understand is an inconvenient interference in your life, and I don’t blame the players for what they’re doing.
I just believe this in my soul that [this is] the greatest thing about America. Absolutely the single greatest thing about America is we have the freedom to protest our government, to protest the actions of our leaders, to protest the actions of anybody else in our community. That’s the single greatest thing about America. And when someone turns around and says, “I want to take that away, I want to deny that”—those are the people that I would question their patriotism. Those are the people I would question, “how much do you really love America?”
But I just don’t understand why people don’t see the greatness of living in a country that allows people to protest. And certainly racial injustice in America is something that we need on the front burner of our conscious thought, and I applaud the NFL players for doing that. And it has nothing to do with the military. It has nothing to do with their disrespecting the flag or the country, because to me they’re respecting the greatest thing about our country.
On criticism for his social commentary:
I find it incredibly interesting when people say to me, I’m going to stop watching you unless you stop talking about the social issues. I just want you to give the ball scores and the highlights. I always answer them with the question—and no one has ever answered it—what do I say to all the people who watch me because I don’t just do ball scores and highlights? What do I say to all the people who’ve been watching me in Dallas for 38 years? And I promise you, they’re not watching me for 38 years because of my firm jawline and my thick black wavy air. What do I say to those people? “Oh, I’m sorry. I’m no longer going to speak out about this, the wife beaters, the drug users, gay rights in America. I’m not going to speak out about any of that stuff because Larry in De Soto doesn’t want me to do it anymore.” And if I try to please Larry, then I’m going to lose Bob. And if I try to please Bob. I lose Larry.
What I decided a long time ago was I’m just going to do what I think is right. I’m going to do what feels right to me, and the audience will decide if what I’m doing is something that they accept or don’t accept. And if they don’t, then you don’t have to worry about me anymore. I’ll be gone. But for whatever reason, at least there’s enough people who seem to appreciate this … I’m not going crazy on the air. I’m not—I’m not Alex Jones here. You know, I’m not some nut job, acting like an idiot. I’m trying to make a very sincere, nuanced argument about the issues that affect our society.
And I simply want you to think about it. I want you to talk about it. I mean, if this is arrogant, so be it. I just know that I’ve moved the needle. I’ve got hard-core conservative friends who have changed their attitude about gay rights, about guns, about health care. They have changed their opinions based on something that I wrote, and then started talking about it with their other friends. And there’s just nothing more worthwhile in life than that.
On Trump calling LeBron James dumb on Twitter:
Disgusting. I mean, it’s absolutely disgusting. I mean, that’s—I said this in my commentary, and I do try to be careful. Not because of Trump—I don’t respect this man at all. I’m in George Will’s camp, of all people. I never thought I’d say that. But I think George Will has it right. And as I said in this commentary a year ago, it has not been lost on us that [Trump] singled out the Mexicans, then the Muslims, and now the black athlete. And yet when the white man was marching under a Nazi flag protesting “Jews will not replace us,” his response was, “There are good people on both sides.” I don’t know how people can ignore that. I don’t know how people cannot see that.