Deaf Falcons player overcomes obstacles to showcase gift

by: Anthony Amey Updated:

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. - Most of us don't even pay full attention to the many distinct sounds we so often have the chance to enjoy when we attend or watch a football game.

But imagine if you could not hear the sound of the crowd, or the whistles from the officials or even the music after a big hit or a turnover or a touchdown.

That's what Falcons fullback Derrick Coleman experiences every time he steps on the field. 

Coleman, 26, signed with Atlanta as a free agent in March, after sitting out the entire 2015 season, in part due to a legal case.

Once former Pro-Bowler Patrick DiMarco left to sign with the Buffalo Bills, the Falcons were in need of a fullback and head coach Dan Quinn was familiar with Coleman from their days together in Seattle. 

Coleman was a Seahawk from the end of the 2012 season through the 2014 campaign. He was part of the Seahawks Super Bowl XLVIII championship team following the 2013 season. 

He entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent out of UCLA in 2012, signing with the Minnesota Vikings. 

In case you haven't noticed by now, I've listed numerous accomplishments by Coleman, and I haven't even mentioned the fact that he's deaf.

A Los Angeles native, Coleman lost most of his hearing by the time he was 3 years old. He began playing football in middle school, and he's never allowed his disability to prevent him from showcasing his superior athletic ability on the football field.

So, how exactly does the first deaf offensive player in the nearly 100-year history of the NFL manage to not just keep up, but thrive on the field?  He has mastered lip reading and he uses the benefit of hand signals from his teammates, primarily the quarterbacks, when necessary. Coleman also wears very strong hearing aids in both ears.

Matt Ryan, the 2016 NFL Most Valuable Player, has raved about Coleman, not just because of what he's overcome, but because of his ability and the versatility he's displayed from the fullback position at this point in the offseason program. 

New Falcons offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian commended Coleman for reaching his professional dreams, despite his lack of hearing.  Sarkisian also noted that the proper communication is key, from him to Ryan to Coleman, to ensure that they put their new fullback in the best position to succeed.

When I asked Coleman if he realizes just how much he inspires others who could very well be looking at him as an example of how one overcomes such a barrier, he noted that he's gone to classrooms since he was in high school, urging students with disabilities not to allow them the proverbial crutch of using them as excuses.