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Once in a lifetime: TEGNA8 sports anchor Dale Hansen gets a big national award (updated with quotes)

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TEGNA8’s Dale Hansen, dean of D-FW sports anchors, is getting an honor that might be even bigger than his 2014 appearance on Ellen.

At its 29th annual First Amendment awards on March 13th, the Radio Television Digital News Foundation (formerly the Radio-Television News Directors Association) will present its Lifetime Achievement Award to Hansen. He is the first local journalist to receive the award, which was inaugurated in 2012.

The RTDNF made the announcement Thursday morning. Hansen, who joined TEGNA8 in 1983 (when it was owned by the Dallas-based Belo Corp.), was cited for his “Unplugged“ segments on newscasts, “where he uses sports news as a springboard toward discussions about social issues.”

His appearance on the Ellen DeGeneres show was tied to Hansen’s commentary in support of NFL hopeful Michael Sam, who would have been the NFL’s first openly gay player.

“What an amazing man he is,” she said of Hansen, who received a standing ovation. Sams was drafted by the then St. Louis Rams and also spent some time on the Dallas Cowboys practice squad. But he never made an NFL roster and later played in the Canadian Football League.

Reached Monday by phone, Hansen said he was “absolutely stunned” when he learned of the award. “Tears just started running down my cheeks. Of course, I am the guy who cries when Grandpa Walton got sick on The Waltons.”

“I honestly don’t feel that I’m worthy of such an honor, but I’m incredibly honored that someone thinks I am,” he added. “I can’t get my head around this one. I’m not the most humble man in the world. I don’t deny that. But this is beyond anything I imagined possible.”

The RTDNF’s Lifetime Achievement Award dates to 2012, when the late Andy Rooney was the first recipient. After skipping a year, the organization re-instituted the award in 2014. Recipients since that time have been Bill Plante, the late Bob Simon, Tom Brokaw, Nina Totenberg and Robin Roberts.

Being the first local journalist to receive this award “has not been lost on me,” Hansen said. “A local sportscaster, and to receive something of this magnitude. It’s just staggering to me.”

His appearance on Ellen, still viewed as his ultimate career achievement by Hansen’s wife, Kris, “without question put me on the national map,” he said. Subsequent profiles in The Washington Post and The New York Times further paved the way for his RTDNF honor. Both articles took note of Hansen’s self-deprecating description of himself as an “old fat white guy in a Red state.”

Hansen said that his station’s corporate owner, TEGNA, Inc., has stepped in to pay for a pricey table at the upcoming RTDNF ceremony. His guest of honor will be Danny Livingston, who gave Hansen his first TV job back in 1977 at Omaha, Nebraska’s KMTV-TV. Livingston’s career advice and mentoring have been indispensable to him, Hansen said. They included a tip to “go down there and cover the kids” when Hansen first arrived in Dallas for what proved to be a short stint as the featured sports anchor at KDFW-TV (Channel 4), now branded as Fox4. Hansen said he took the advice and became the first D-FW sports anchor to include high school football highlights in his Friday night sportscasts. Now they all do it.

The RTDNF also cited Hansen’s 1987 George Foster Peabody and DuPont-Columbia awards for his part in an investigation of the SMU football program. The end result was a lengthy “death penalty” for the university.

The 70-year-old Hansen’s latest contract with TEGNA8 takes him through 2020.

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net