Deafness doesn't slow Coleman's Super Bowl run

JERSEY CITY, N.J.

Some things, he could not hear.

Some things, he didn't want to hear.

For Derrick Coleman, that was the most difficult thing about not being able to hear normally. Even with that, there was a certain amount of garbage he could not tune out.

The other kids' taunts? Coleman heard enough of those. The others who doubted him? Coleman heard plenty of those, too. All the names of players who were drafted while he was not? Coleman heard every one.

Ah, but there are other times, times the sweetest sounds filter through.

He can hear the children who look to him for inspiration. He can hear the admiration of his teammates. He can hear the celebrations of victory.

These days, he can hear the cheers.

For Coleman, the fullback of the Seattle Seahawks, that is enough.

Coleman, 23, is legally deaf, an incredible obstacle to overcome when you think about it. He can hear some but not enough. Coleman puts it on a 10-point scale. A person who hears normally is a 10. Without his hearing aides, Coleman is a two, maybe a three. Even with the hearing aides, he is a six, maybe a seven. Even with the hearing aides, he studies your face as you talk to him.

There are easier ways to make a living. Football is based largely on sound, from snap counts to audibles to sideline adjustments to officials' admonitions.

And still, Coleman has flourished. Why wouldn't he? Since he was a child, he has known nothing else.

"I don't think of it as a disability," he said Thursday. "I really don't. If what I have is a disability, you have to say that every person who needs glasses has a disability. We all have disabilities. We all have things we have to overcome.

"There were unique obstacles that I had to go through. But everyone on this team and everyone on the Denver Broncos had some tough obstacles to get through. The difference is that we overcame it all. We didn't let it hold us back in anything that we did. We set our goal. We set our dreams, and we finally accomplished it."

Coleman stands in a corner of the interview room, pouring water over a tea bag. You have to look closely to see the small wires that loop over each ear.

Most of the time, Coleman relies on reading lips. When Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson calls audibles, he turns and faces Coleman to do so.

"He's one of the most amazing stories in the NFL," teammate Michael Bennett said. "To do what he does when he can't hear like everyone else, that's incredible. I don't know if I could do that."

Coleman was 3 years old and growing up in Los Angeles when his parents noticed he didn't have a lot to say. They had him tested, and doctors discovered he had a pronounced hearing deficiency. Probably genetic, they decided.

It didn't matter. Coleman gravitated toward sports — basketball, soccer, baseball, tennis. Finally, football. Other kids made jokes — they always make jokes, Coleman said. But eventually, everyone forgot about the electronics in his helmet.

"Sports is really where I got my confidence from," he said. "I love team sports because after a day or two, people forget that I have hearing problems. I'm going out there and just playing like they are."

It was his first high school game when Coleman showed he wasn't going to back down. He fumbled three times in the first half. In the second, he scored three touchdowns.

And off he went. He was good enough to sign with UCLA, turning down the USC Trojans of Pete Carroll, now his coach at Seattle. He wasn't drafted in 2012, but he said he had three or four teams try to sign him as a free agent. Minnesota signed him, then cut him. Instead, he landed with the Seahawks.

Yeah, he can feel the crowd.

"Of course I can," he laughs. "It's like an earthquake."

Lately, the world has discovered Coleman. First, there was the Duracell commercial, the batteries he use to power his hearing aides.

"We wanted to inspire others," Coleman said. "We wanted to let them know that whatever accomplishments you want to achieve, regardless of whatever obstacles you have to overcome, you can always endure. Just do what you want to do. Trust the power within. That's basically what I'm doing.

"I just wanted to reach out to the other hard-of-hearing and deaf community kids I can relate to and who can relate to me. Everyone has problems. No one's perfect.

More recently, there was the story about a tweet Coleman received from a young, hearing-impaired fan who talked about how Coleman had inspired her. That touched Coleman, who returned a long letter to the 9-year-old and gave her, her twin sister and the rest of her family tickets to the Super Bowl.

"It was one of those things where she's not asking for anything, not an autograph or something," he said. "She's just saying, 'I have faith in you. You're my inspiration, and I hope you do well in everything you do.' That kind of touched my heart a little bit. It made me feel warm.

"What I'm doing now, that's basically saying that you can do it, too. They're not going to be saying you can't do it because you're hard of hearing. I'm making that step."

Michael Robinson is the starter at fullback for the Seahawks, but he's impressed with Coleman, too.

"I love D.C.," he said. "I couldn't imagine being impaired in some way, whether it's hearing or sight or whatever."

On Sunday, Coleman will jog onto the field at the Super Bowl, and the crowd will respond. The music will blare, and the whistles will blow, and the coaches will shout. A deaf man will make his mark.

Around the country, those who have been inspired by Coleman will take in the sight of it.

The sound, too.

Deafness doesn't slow Coleman's Super Bowl run 01/30/14 [Last modified: Thursday, January 30, 2014 9:57pm]

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