Seattle Seahawks running back Derrick Coleman says growing up hard-of-hearing helped form him, as a person and as an athlete.
“When somebody tells me I can’t do something, all I do is say, ‘Watch me,’” the 23-year-old told a gathering of deaf and hard-of-hearing kids who packed the library Tuesday at Baker Middle School in Tacoma.
The students, many wearing Seahawks insignia, came from Baker, Birney Elementary and Mount Tahoma High School — all schools with special programs for students with hearing challenges. They were joined by deaf and hard-of-hearing students from Puyallup and Federal Way schools.
“You guys are very fortunate to have teachers and a program like this,” said Coleman, as school interpreters signed for students. “I never had a program like this.”
Coleman, the first hearing-impaired offensive player in the NFL, never learned much sign language. He taught himself to read lips.
“That was my way of adapting to it,” he explained.
It wasn’t easy. For more than a year after his hearing began to diminish at age 3, he didn’t talk at all. In his early school years, he said, he was embarrassed and ashamed.
“I didn’t know how to talk to other kids,” he said. “A lot of kids made fun of me.”
His parents explained that plenty of kids have challenges, and they told him to never use his hearing loss as an excuse.
By the time he was in sixth or seventh grade, Coleman said, he realized he was going to have to take the lead. That’s also about the time he started playing football.
“If I can’t hear you, I’m going to let you know,” he said.
Coleman uses hearing aids as well as lip-reading to communicate with others — including his Seahawks teammates. On the field, he said, when quarterback Russell Wilson calls a play, “all he has to do is look at me. I read his lips.”
Coleman’s concentration gave him a big moment on a national stage last week when he scored his first career touchdown on Monday Night Football against the New Orleans Saints — off a tipped pass, no less.
Coleman said being hard-of-hearing made him work harder than everyone else. But he doesn’t think that’s a drawback. He told students that “how hard you work will determine how far you go.”
His advice to kids: “If you have a dream, go for it. If you want to be a policeman, or a firefighter, go for it. If you want to play sports, go for it. If you want to be president of the United States, go for it.”
Baker eighth-grader Oscar Jefferson was inspired by Coleman’s message for him and other kids with hearing loss. Oscar loves football, and he’s looking forward to a second season with the Baker Bulldogs — as well as a possible NFL career like Coleman’s.
“He just said to be proud of yourself,” Oscar said. “Work hard, and don’t use your hearing loss as an excuse.”Debbie Cafazzo: 253-597-8635 debbie.cafazzo@ thenewstribune.com @DebbieCafazzo