The 12th Man is now officially the loudest crowd in sports history, but there is one Seahawk who wasn’t bowled over by the record breaking, thundering cheers: Derrick Coleman, a Seattle Seahawks fullback, who is also the first legally deaf offensive player in the NFL.
“Well, my mom noticed I was experiencing hearing loss when I was about 3 years old. I wasn’t talking like a normal 3-year-old should so she took me to the audiologist and basically determined that my hearing was going down. By the time I was 4 years old, I basically had hearing aids for almost every day.”
Derrick, 23, says they never figured out exactly why he lost his hearing, but they think it might have to do with genetics. But he’s never let it affect his life or his game.
“When I’m talking to somebody one-on-one, a normal place or something, I can hear you. The hearing aid is basically like a microphone. It amplifies the sound.”
Derrick doesn’t use sign language, but he reads lips. Which was very exciting news for his high school football coach, in Fullerton, California, who once had Derrick read the lips of the opposing coach across the field. Derrick saw the coach was planning a sweep play, so his coach changed the defense and was able to shut the sweep down.
Derrick, who played for UCLA and then on the Minnesota Vikings practice squad before becoming a Seahawk, says being deaf has never affected his game.
“If you talk to any of my college coaches or go back to my high school coach, I never really had an issue with that. They can go through my career. I mean, I made it all the way to Division I football without an issue, so that really shouldn’t be a problem.”
And he has somewhat of an advantage when the fans are rattling CenturyLink Field with their roars.
“It doesn’t really matter so much to me because I’m able to tone all that out. I don’t have to worry about that. Even if we go to an away game, when it’s already loud, I’m able to read people’s lips. So if I’m talking to you, as long as we’re looking at each other, I can read your lips.”
His teammates and coaches say they hardly even notice Derrick’s hearing, and never have a problem communicating with him on and off the field.
Recently, Derrick spoke to about 100 deaf students at Tacoma’s Baker Middle School.
“The biggest thing I always emphasize when I talk to them is go out there and be yourself. Follow your dreams no matter what it is. Everybody has problems and the best thing to do is just don’t use an excuse. What can you do to make it work? If you want to be a football player, if you want to be a basketball player, always see that as achievable. Most people say I wouldn’t be able to play football. But if somebody tells you you can’t do something that should be something you want to do. Don’t make any excuses. People don’t like excuses. If somebody makes an excuse to you, you’re not going to like it. So what makes you think they’re gonna like it?”
Derrick’s been playing football since seventh grade and says he feels blessed to get to play professionally.