JERSEY CITY, N.J. – Seahawks fullback Derrick Coleman, the NFL's first legally deaf offensive player, can hear you just fine.
If his hearing aids are in, he said his hearing is about 60-80 percent of what normal people hear (and about 20 percent without the hearing aids). He makes up for the other 20-40 percent by reading lips well.
And if that's not good enough, especially on the football field, he's never going to let you know.
"I never really had any or caused any problems, and if I ever did, I made sure it was corrected before I ever went out there," Coleman said. "I don’t ever really use my hearing aid as an excuse. I’ll find a different excuse before I use my hearing as an excuse."
He won't talk about his hearing impairment if it seems like he's using it as an excuse, but he's more than willing to discuss how it hasn't held him back in reaching his goals.
Over the past few weeks, Coleman has become an inspiration. He really came into the public light with a great Duracell commercial that featured his journey to the NFL. It has more than 13 million views on YouTube.
He has been a popular interview subject during Super Bowl week. He answered the same questions over and over during the three days of Seahawks media availability, but that's OK. He wants his message to reach hearing-impaired kids, to let them know that he reached his dream of playing in a Super Bowl, so there's no reason they can't reach their dreams too.
"The hardest thing about being in the deaf community is getting over wall one," Coleman said. "Everything I do is going to affect them in terms of perception. Everything they do is going to affect me. What I’m doing now, getting the opportunity to play for the Seattle Seahawks and getting the chance to play in the Super Bowl, that’s basically saying that when people are hard of hearing now, you can do it too."
Coleman has already had one of the highlights of the Super Bowl. After seeing his Duracell commercial 9-year-old Riley Kovalcik, who is hearing impaired as is her twin sister Erin, wrote a touching letter to Coleman. Riley and Erin Kovalcik were on ABC's "Good Morning America," and were treated to a surprise appearance by Coleman. Not just that, but Coleman also had Super Bowl tickets for the sisters and their family.
Throughout the week, it has become fairly clear that Coleman is a pretty unique guy.
"Derrick is an extraordinary kid and regardless of what his issues are, he’s an extraordinary person," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "He has demonstrated to others that have that kind of issue, how far you can take it and what you can do and how there are no boundaries."
Coleman isn't in the NFL because he's an inspirational story. He has a job to do, and does it well. Carroll has said the Seahawks will put him on the field in any situation, because they trust him. He's a stalwart for their special teams. He started three games and caught eight passes this year, including one for a touchdown.
He was asked if he can hear a quarterback's audibles, and with his hearing aids he said he usually can. In the huddle he's always lined up across from the quarterback or right next to him, and if he can't hear he starts reading lips.
"If he ever breaks the huddle and I didn’t understand a play, I’m not embarrassed, I’m not shy to go up to him and say, ‘Hey, I didn’t hear it,’ or just grab him right quick and ask him again," Coleman said.
Many players who are fortunate enough to get to the Super Bowl use that platform to speak about a cause or get out some kind of a message. Coleman said he didn't really have a role model in the deaf community growing up, although he said his parents and rest of his family were great in offering support. Now that more people know who he is thanks to the Seahawks' success, he wants to have a positive influence.
"That’s why I always talk to kids, and I’m glad to be in this situation because I can help," Coleman said. "I get to be a role model for everybody else."
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