Small-Town Guy, Big-City Legend

Sportscaster Dale Hansen Steps into His 70’s More Empowered than Ever Before

“Badass”  “Jaw-Dropping”  “Near-Mythic”

Photo credit: Dr. Jarvis Jacobs ~

These are phrases one might use to evoke images of a star athlete, a legendary performer, or a famous historical figure. These are also phrases that have been used to describe one of your local sportscasters: Dale Hansen

That’s right: Dale Hansen, of ABC affiliate WFAA Channel 8. The very same Dale Hansen who, in 1986, catapulted to national prominence when he broke the Pony-Gate Scandal.

The revelation that SMU was paying its football players — despite being on probation — earned the school the NCAA’s very first “death penalty,” and earned Hansen a litany of death threats including that now-famous dead bird in a box.

The very same Dale Hansen who, within the past few years, has enjoyed a second life as a viral sensation. “I swear I didn’t know what ‘going viral’ meant,” Hansen said.

“I couldn’t figure out how I was getting e-mails from California, Canada, and Boston and New York, and London. And I think, ‘How big of an antenna do these people have, for God’s sake? How did they see that show?’” For the uninitiated, “going viral” is a term used to describe a piece of content that large populations of internet users share amongst each other with a pandemic-like rate. In his case, Hansen’s segment, “Unplugged,” has popped up across cyberspace, appearing on such millennial-driven websites as BuzzFeed and The Huffington Post. Someclips went so far as to trend on YouTube. “Unplugged” is ostensibly a sports segment, and Hansen frequently uses it to castigate the Dallas Cowboys many a time. But he also uses it as a venue for moral appeal.

Combining incisive zingers and left-of-center ideology with no-nonsense southern straight-talk, Hansen has made vocal his support for gay athletes; scrutinized racism at a Flower Mound high school basketball game; and come to the defense of survivors of sexual assault by admitting that he, too, is among their numbers. Even his sports commentaries come tinged with moral outrage.

Back in 2008, when the Cowboys signed a player long associated with criminal activity, Hansen quipped, “If character really doesn’t matter, why don’t they sign Osama bin Laden to play wide receiver? They need one. He’s 6’4”, and we know nobody can catch him.”

Neither Hansen’s co-anchors, nor the production staff, could keep themselves from reacting to this punchline, and can be heard in the video.You can love or hate him, agree or disagree with him, but one thing is certain: He’s not stopping any time soon. Hansen may have just turned 70 this past August, but he’s already signed a new two year  contract with WFAA.

Born in Logan, IA, in 1948, Hansen served in the US Navy after high school and spent some time in trade school, but never went to college. He first began his career in broadcasting as a radio DJ before moving into news, and then sports.

Hansen insists he had to outwork most of his peers in an industry that required a degree. And, perhaps because of that persistence, Hansen doesn’t consider his age as any kind of barrier.

“There are many, many days my body feels like it’s 93,” Hansen said, “but the reality is my mind still thinks I’m 33, tops, and too many times thinks I’m 23. I don’t ever want to lose that.”

Sure, he’s not as physically capable as he once was. Sure, he can’t party quite as much as he could in his prime. Although he recalls his early days as a young journalist in Iowa and Nebraska with fondness, and considers his time investigating SMU and rolling with the Cowboys both exhilarating and rewarding, that doesn’t mean he’s caught up in memories of his youth or empty nostalgia.

And he doesn’t resign himself to the thought that his good days are behind him. On the contrary, Hansen said that some of his very best days have occurred within the past five to seven years, even if he is overweight, aging, and losing his hair.

“All of a sudden, I get into my 60s and Michael Sam comes out and says he’s gay,” Hansen said. After writing an “Unplugged” segment supporting Sam in the NFL draft, the next thing Hansen knew,“I’m getting e-mails from all over the world and I’m flying to L.A. to be on the Ellen DeGeneres show.”That particular “Unplugged” segment even led MSNBC anchor Lawrence O’Donnell to call Hansen the “sportscaster of the decade.”

Hansen said the secret to his longevity — and his success — lies in three basic principles to which he’s adhered over the years. The first is probably the simplest. “Every single day, I laugh about something,” Hansen said.

He says he always finds some measure of enjoyment within his day, and that finding something to make him feel good about being alive is key.

The second principle is a little tougher. “Number two is far and away the most important change of my life over the last several years,” Hansen said. “I don’t worry about anything, because it doesn’t help.”

Hansen references the 2015 film Bridge of Spies, directed by Steven Spielberg. It tells the true story of James Donovan, a lawyer recruited to defend Rudolf Abel, a Sovietspy. In the film, Donovan often asks Abel if he’s worried about a certain outcome, such as being found guilty or being killed.

Abel responds, “Would it help?”Hansen has taken this outlook to heart; he even has the phrase “Would it help?” engraved on a glass plaque in his office. He doesn’t allow himself to worry about things — debt, illness, and so on. Why?

“Would it help?” Hansen said. Instead, he lives life in the present. He tackles his problems head-on. Because worrying, for Hansen, would not help.

Finally, Hansen shared his third principle. “Oil of Olay,” he said. “I keep myself coated in Oil of Olay.”

Hansen implores other members of his age group to follow his lead. He encourages them to stay involved, whether it is in their communities or through a form of self-expression.

“Find an outlet,” Hansen said, “and don’t resign yourself to the fact that the best days are behind you because they’re just not. They’re just not.”

There are great days coming, Hansen insists. They may be different days, but they are still great days.

Watch Dale Hansen weeknights at 10:00 p.m. on WFAA, Channel 8.

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