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American Sign Language: "Deaf and the Sports Community"

By Hannah Scriver



Deaf and the Sports Community

Imagine you're standing at the free-throw-line, the crowd is screaming, your coach is yelling, whistles are blowing but you can't hear any of it. It might be hard for some to relate to the pressures of an athlete if you are just a spectator. For people who can hear, it's next to impossible to relate to the challenges of being deaf and being an athlete as well. Nearly three out of every 1,000 American children are born deaf. For children, growing up playing sports is a normal part of life. For deaf children growing up playing sports, there are some obstacles and challenges to overcome, but there have been great strides made to give them great opportunities to compete and strategies that help them to not only compete but to excel. (Thompson, 2010)

Deaf athletes participate in all types of sports, with limited or no modifications but with obstacles to overcome (Thompson, 2010). Some difficulties the deaf athlete may face are: communication barriers with their teammates and coaches when calling out plays, stopping the game, or calling for the ball; equipment challenges, such as a football helmet or a swim cap interfering with hearing devices. Deaf athletes can also face difficulties interacting with the officials. For instance, the athlete may lose a split second by not being able to hear a starter's gun. Another issue for the deaf athlete may be the loss of crowd support. There are also obvious safety issues that pose dangers if an athlete cannot hear such as competitors coming from behind in a cycling race for instance. Another hurdle these athletes sometimes have to face is being considered, by their opponents, as a nonfactor.

Simple modifications are made for many for these athletes. Lights can be used in swimming for instance to start the race. When the gun is fired or the signal is given, the light will go on to indicate the start. This method can be used for other sports such as track, boxing, basketball or other activities where a horn or gun are used for the start or at any point in the game. Flags or gestures such as waving can be used to gain the attention of an athlete. A player may need to tag a referee or another player to gain their attention and vice versa. Visual aids such as score boards, white boards, or signs can be used to communicate. Interpreters are also widely used in sports as well. Coaches and teammates can learn some signs to help bridge the communication gap. As well as face to face communication and signals that the message is understood. One of the most important things may be to give the deaf athlete a little extra time and patience when getting used to this modified way of play (Deaf Sports Australia).

Josh Hembrough, hurdler at Purdue University, sports a black headband not just for fashion but function because it allows him to keep his cochlear implant in place. This allows him to hear the starter's gun and to hear the cheers of the crowd which help to motivate him toward the finish line. (Thompson, 2010)

Curtis Pride, former MLB outfielder and current head baseball coach at Gallaudet University helps teach his players to overcome the challenges they face just as he did for 11 seasons in the Major Leagues. He wears a hearing aid to help him overcome his disability. Pride feels like people sometimes have a tendency to feel sorry for those with disabilities or to have lower expectations for them. But he has high expectations for his players and even higher for himself. (Thompson, 2010)

Marcus Titus, swimmer, United States National Team, is on the wall of fame at the University of Arizona for his school record 100 yard breaststroke. There is no asterisk by his name for having anything different about him. He trains just the same as all the other swimmers except for the light that starts him at the beginning of the race instead of a loud signal. Complete silence is what helps him to focus. (Thompson, 2010)

Derrick Coleman, UCLA running back, plays the least deaf-friendly sport of football. He manages by wearing a hearing aid and the coach and players use hand signals. (Thompson, 2010)

Emily Cressy, soccer player for Kansas, uses a hearing aid as well as an interpreter to help her to compete. On the field, she sees where everything is and considers it an advantage. Because she can't hear, she sees things others don't. (Thompson, 2010)

Last year seventy-six deaf and hard of hearing students played NCAA and NAIA sports and thirty-nine played Division One, according to Deaf Digest Magazine. Those figures don't include high school and professional athletes, as well as those who may not wish to be identified. The 1973 rehabilitation act mandated interpreters for deaf and hard of hearing students at universities and protected these athletes from discrimination. This has led to increased numbers of deaf athletes competing in sports (Klemko, 2009). For anyone with any disability, life can be filled with challenges. Hearing loss is the number one disability in the United States. An estimated 28 million people in the United States have some degree of hearing loss.

In history there have been some big name deaf athletes. Major League baseball player, William "Dummy" Hoy, is one of the best known deaf athletes. In the late 1800's and early 1900's he was known for leading the league in stolen bases. He was given credit for creating the signs that baseball umpires use today when they call a strike, out, ball, safe, etc. Other star deaf athletes included professional baseball player and coach, Curtis Pride; Kenny Walker, football player for the Denver Broncos and coach at Iowa School for the Deaf; and Terence Parkin, Current Olympic swimmer (Coladonato, 2011).

Many deaf athletes participate in mainstream sports while many others have taken to the increasingly popular Deaflympics. Before the 1920s, there were not any programs being held for any type of disability group. The creation of the of the International Silent games in 1924 (now known as the Deaflympics) made a huge impact on the deaf community. The founder, Eugene Rubens-Alcais, of France, had the vision of bringing these athletes together for competition and social and cultural interaction. The Deaflympics are led by deaf people for deaf athletes and are sanctioned by the International Olympic Committee. The summer and winter Deaflympics allow athletes from seventy seven nations to come together to show off their athleticism and give them a competitive atmosphere to showcase their athletic excellence at their highest level. This is also an opportunity for the worldwide deaf community to come together to build skills, networks, and friendships. (Coladonato, 2011).

Organized sports for deaf athletes, as well as mainstream sports for these athletes have become so important to the worldwide deaf community. There will surely be debates as to where these athletes should fit in the realm of sports and the criterion that fit under but they no doubt are an integral part in the world of sports today.

In the world of international sports, there are the Olympic Games and competitions for disabled athletes, such as the Paralympic Games, the World Games for the Deaf ["Deaflympics"], and the Special Olympics. The Olympic Games, by its nature, is not accessible to most disabled athletes. The formation of special competitions for athletes, who are physically or mentally disabled, or who are Deaf, has been of tremendous benefit to athletes who have never been given the opportunity to strive to reach the pinnacle of competition. (Jordan, 1996). The more opportunities that are given to any type of athlete will result in more benefits achieved by everyone involved in the wonderful world of sports.


Colandonato Ali, 2011/04/29, Everybody loves a crowd: recognizing deaf athletes, Reporter Online,, 15/12/2012

Thompson, Carmen Renee, 2010/11/3, Noise makers,, ESPN The Magazine,

Klemko, Robert, 2009/09/18, Deaf athletes hurdle barriers, achieve goals in college sports, USA,, 15/12/2012

Jordan, Jerald, 1996/12, International Committee of Sports for the Deaf-published articles,,15/12/2012

Deaf Sports Australia, Fact Sheet Sports Modifications,, 15/12/2012,

Deaf Sports Australia, Fact Sheet Communication,, 15/12/2012

Deaf Sports Australia, Fact Sheet Coaching,, 15/12/2012

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