Story by Molly Longman
Dallas-Fort Worth-WFAA sportscaster Dale Hansen’s commentary on University of Missouri’s former defensive end and NFL hopeful Michael Sam, who publicly revealed he was gay at the beginning of February, inspired local journalists to evaluate the role a reporter takes when advocating for a cause.
In Hansen’s commentary, he addressed the hypocrisy of the NFL for suggesting a gay player wouldn’t be welcome in the locker room.
He also stated that we as a country should celebrate and accept our differences.
The commentary went viral over social media, including a retweet on Twitter by Michael Sam himself.
TV host Ellen DeGeneres took note of his broadcast and asked him to make an appearance on “Ellen” to talk about what she called his “heroic” statement.
In a telephone interview, Hansen talked about why he was so interested in writing and delivering his commentary.
“There were eight NFL officials quoted in a sportsillustrated.com article saying that a gay player wouldn’t be welcome in the locker room, they wouldn’t be comfortable with a gay player in the locker room. The hypocrisy of that argument, when you look at all the men who are welcome in the locker room, the wife-beaters, the druggies, the men who drive drunk, made me madder than hell,” Hansen said.
He said what he wrote in his commentary was simply common sense in his mind.
“It was exactly the kind of advocacy journalism that I believe in,” Hansen said.
Hansen explained that he feels advocacy journalism is important in modern reporting.
“Addressing topics that aren’t just about the sport, but about the lives of the athletes is crucial to being successful as a sportscaster. The days of doing ball scores and highlights are just about gone. You have to take a stronger stance and talk about how sports do affect the social fabric of our society, which I believe they do. You have to become a story teller,” Hansen said.
Bryce Miller, a sports columnist for the Des Moines Register, wrote a series of articles in his sports column last year that stated the decision to drop wrestling from the Olympics was absurd.
“The goal was to advocate for the importance of the topic, not for the result,” Miller said.
He said the topic was important to his readers, so, though he was writing a column, he “covered it journalistically.”
Drake Associate Professor Lee Jolliffe said, “It’s OK for a journalist to advocate or give his opinion in his stories as long as they’re clearly labeled as a column, or a color piece, or commentary.”
Jolliffe also pointed out that advocacy can lead to a loss of credibility in some cases, especially when dealing with politics and religion.
Another Drake professor, Todd Evans, disagreed that a reporter should serve as an advocate.
“I don’t think people understand what journalism is. The whole idea is to seek truth and report it,” Evans said.
Evans noted that in The Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics, “Minimizing Harm” is one of the standards.
“If you’re advocating for something, if you’re taking that role, there is potential to do harm, and that’s where it starts to bother me,” Evans said.
Hansen said he assumed his commentary would get a mostly negative response, but his goal was not to harm or offend.
“I just wanted to point out the hypocrisy of it all…and I’m sure many other journalists will advocate for future players,” Hansen said. “It’s just common sense and human decency to do so.”