Deaf American footballer Derrick Coleman’s journey to the top of the NFL

Posted on January 17, 2014

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Derrick Coleman, the Seattle Seahawks fullback, is the first deaf offensive American Football player in NFL history.

This week, Derrick’s story was revealed to the world in an advert for Duracell, where he explains how he never let deafness stand between him and his dreams, even though others around him did.

It is an inspirational advert that has been shared around the world and viewed over three-and-a-half million times.

On Sunday, Derrick’s team will take to the field against the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship game, the equivalent of Soccer’s European Champions League Semi-final.

If his team wins, then Coleman will play at the Superbowl for the iconic Vince Lombardi trophy on Sunday 2nd February. It’s the biggest event in American sport.

Coleman’s journey from going deaf at the age of three to being on the verge of competing in America’s greatest sporting event was not a simple one.

Coleman learned to lip read and make the best of his hearing aids at an early age. Despite the fact that American football helmets obscure much of the face; lip reading has been Coleman’s main mode of communication.

Coleman also had to contend with his hearing aids being knocked out during the rough and tumble of play and being told that he should give up.

Coleman is a Californian and played college football for UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles). Once he graduated, he became eligible for ‘The Draft’ which is the process for NFL teams to select new players for the coming season.

As the advert shows, Coleman didn’t get picked. A situation that was an unwelcome echo of the experiences from his childhood where he said he was often picked last at school for playground games with other children. Not because he wasn’t good, but because he was deaf.

Despite the disappointment, Coleman pressed on. He was selected for the Minnesota Vikings practice squad and then moved on to the Seahawks practice squad.

His talent then took him into the first team and now, one year on, he’s preparing for the NFC Championship game and will be supported by fans so loud, they even caused a small earthquake.

Many deaf children or sports people will identify with Coleman’s struggle. I have watched my son replace the cochlear implant processor on his head during football matches too many times to remember and watched the concentration on his face as he tries to make sense of the coach’s instruction.

Many deaf children will know the feeling that they haven’t been given the chances they deserve, not because of talent, but because of their deafness.

Coleman’s advert gives me goosebumps and it will do just the same to millions of people around the world who know will know nothing more about deafness.

Coleman will know that the advert barely even scratches the surface of what it took him to get to the top. It does, however, get the message across that although deafness presents a significant obstacle to promising sports people, with determination, anything is possible.

I’ll have my fingers crossed for Coleman on Sunday.

You can watch Coleman and the Seattle Seahawks in action against the the San Francisco 49ers from 11pm, Sunday 19th January, Sky Sports 1.

By Andy Palmer, Deputy Editor. Andy volunteers for the Peterborough and District Deaf Children’s Society on their website, deaf football coaching and other events as well as working for a hearing loss charity. Contact him on twitter @LC_AndyP (all views expressed are his own).

Posted in: Andy Palmer