Derrick Coleman: Creating Conversation About Differences

by: Mark Onofrio

January 31, 2014

The Super Bowl is arguably one of the biggest days in American sports, and with good reason. In addition to being a competition of the best two football teams in the most popular sport in America, this year it is also the kind of celebration not often associated with professional sports.

Derrick Coleman, a running back for the Seattle Seahawks, is the only legally deaf athlete in professional football history to play offense. In early January 2014, Coleman served as the inspiration for a major brand’s commercial where he talks about the impact his hearing impairment has had on his life. The video went viral and in less than a week, and had 5.5 million views.

Coleman’s personal story provides an excellent teaching opportunity to discuss disabilities and the importance of safeguarding the rights and dignity of people with disabilities in our communities and around the world. As the U.S. Senate debates whether to ratify an international treaty on disability rights , Derrick’s story provides an opportunity to put a human face on the impact that treaty can have on people’s lives.

Education can be formal and informal. We have created a new classroom lesson for teachers, but adults can create a lesson in their own living rooms during the Super Bowl. Here are a few questions to the get the conversation going with your friends and family.

  • Do you know what a disability is?
  • What’s unique about Derrick Coleman?
  • What do you think it’s like to feel you are different from everyone else?
  • What are some ways you could help others who are treated unfairly because they are different?

It’s not necessary to have all the answers.  The very act of creating a conversation about difference is a healthy and productive way to raise awareness that being different is ok, and is in fact something to celebrate.