Hearing Aids in the NFL: Derrick Coleman’s Story

September 28, 2015

In the spirit of football season, let’s take a look at a hearing-impaired NFL player who is an inspiration on the field and off. Derrick Coleman, a fullback for the Seattle Seahawks, is the first deaf offense player in the league. His story became quite popular with the 2014 release of the inspiring Duracell commercial outlining some of his hardships. Even the most anti-Seahawks Patriots’ fans among us can admire Derrick Coleman’s achievements.

This talented young player has been wearing hearing aids since age four, after being diagnosed with a progressive loss in both ears, and has publicly shared the obstacles and years of bullying he faced. He credits his parents for instilling him with perseverance, as they supported and encouraged him with the mantra, “No excuses,” and taught him to embrace his use of hearing aids. In fact, his mother tells a heartwarming story of using a piece of fabric from her pantyhose to keep her son’s aids safe from feedback during pop warner. She also defended him fiercely—going to several of his classmates’ homes to reprimand them for bullying.

In spite of the adversity Coleman faced, he was determined to pursue his dreams as a football player; he excelled on school teams and in college at UCLA, repeatedly surmounting his coaches’ and teammates’ doubts. Still, Coleman went undrafted during his first shot at the NFL, and was cut from the Minnesota Vikings after only a few months. Coaches would simultaneously acknowledge his abilities and shy away from him, saying, “We won’t touch him.” But Coleman poured his heart into preparing for the 2012 season and quickly proved himself a key team player, attracting the sights of the Seattle Seahawks. It didn’t take very long for Coleman to prove that he could excel on one of the best football teams in the country with the use of his hearing aids; they do not hold him back, he asserts, but allow him to hear at a “7” rather than a “1” and fully engage in the game. He’s also grown quite comfortable at reading lips, so that whenever the quarterback needs to share a play with Coleman, all he needs to do is mouth the words.

Coleman’s openness and humility has stretched across the country, inspiring many other hearing-impaired individuals to break taboos and welcome the help of hearing aids. He also makes sure to help publicize the importance of hearing protection in our noisy world, promoting awareness of noise-induced hearing loss through the Starkey-funded Listen Carefully program. He applauds the life-altering improvements of modern aids, pointing out their small sizes and improved clarity. Coleman himself wears Starkey aids that have the ability to connect directly to his smartphone. Just one day before he and his team took home the 2014 Super Bowl, Coleman worked with Starkey to fit 100 New Yorkers with aids.

But perhaps the most uplifting bit of Coleman’s story? Following the release of his now-viral commercial, twin girls and hearing-aid users Riley and Erin Kovalcik wrote letters with Coleman, calling him their “insperation” and encouraging him to “just try your best.” Coleman responded in kind, reinforcing the idea that “even though we wear hearing aids, we cdcgirls1an still accomplish our goals and dreams!” He went so far as to bring the Kovalcik family to watch him play up-close in the 2014 Super Bowl—one game of many where his hearing aids helped him shine.

Beth S. Levine M.S., CCC-A, F-AAA owner and licensed audiologist, is a fellow of the American Academy of Audiology. She is licensed by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in Audiology, and certified by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.

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