The Super Bowl is being played this weekend, and it’s a huge event as normal. For me, I’m rooting for the Seahawks. For one reason: Derrick Coleman.
He has a commercial for Duracell (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u2HD57z4F8E) that may be one of the best commercials ever made (but does it really sell Duracell? No.)
In any case, it has had me thinking about how I approached my deafness, and how it was handled when I was a kid… and I am absolutely in awe of this young man’s story. My story just isn’t anywhere as good… when I was a kid, it was considered functionally acceptable to treat me as a cripple. And the worst thing was that I believed it.
I wanted to play football. I remember going out for the team. I remember trying out for positions, and easily being the best thrower for Quarterback in the bunch. It wasn’t even close. I would have been decent at Linebacker or Fullback too. Except, the coach didn’t want me to do that. I remember even taping my hearing aids to my head so I could take a hit without them being knocked out. Truth is, I couldn’t hear much of anything then: I relied heavily on lip reading and the little bit of sound that came in.
But the coach? He would say “He’s deaf. Put him in front of the ball. The only place he can play.” I was not coached up at all. I’m convinced the Head Coach told the Defense coach not to coach me. I was just told to squat and diddle… whatever that meant. I was kept out of drills because he didn’t want to make the effort to communicate. Basically, he didn’t want to change his own backwards ass view of the world where a deaf kid is a useless cripple.
I was too small to be a nosetackle. I was getting crushed in practice, but finding my way. Then one day, I made a few great plays in practice. The snap was bungled, and I dove at it. I recovered the fumble. The next play, I did a nice spin move and sacked the QB. The head coach turned to the defense coach and told him to “sit his ass down” and then berated me for not knowing how to play football. “Don’t touch my quarterback, deaf boy.”
In another practice, I broke my finger. The coach told me to pull on my finger until it popped back into socket and then made me run the bleachers the entire day. He visibly laughed at me.
The final straw… was before our first game. I came in after school to suit up. I went to my locker to get my equipment… and found the lock has been changed.
I went to the coach and asked him for the combination. He talked to me like a baby, fake crying. I really don’t know what he said. I’ve filled in the conversation over the years with the only part of what he said that I understood: “…and fuck off. I don’t want you on my team.”
I was too shocked to even cry. I could not believe an adult did that to me. I was only 13 or 14 at the time, and I was trying to do something I loved. I was so ashamed, I never spoke of this for years. I was scared to tell anyone. I don’t know why, I just was. I didn’t tell my parents… I just said “I quit.” and then refused to discuss it further.
In retrospect, what upsets me most is not just his boorish behavior, but the fact that I accepted it. I let this one pigheaded piece of trash prevent me from doing something I loved… Would I have been any good? Who knows. What would have changed in my life if I was good? Who knows… That time is past, and I’ll never know… but always wonder what would have been if I stood up for myself and not been so frightened and confused.
And that’s why I think Derrick Coleman’s story is amazing… he went through this. and he stood up for himself… and he’s a professional football player about to start in the biggest game, on the biggest stage. On every level, that is just awesome.