(Originally posted in the Huffington Post on January 31, 2014)
A few months ago, at the start of basketball season, my husband took my two youngest sons, Matthew and Alex, to see some college games at Barclays Center, home of the Brooklyn Nets, which is a few blocks from our home. We got the tickets at the last minute through our school and the three of them almost didn’t go because of the usual weeknight complications like homework.
Happily, they decided that opportunity trumped obligation and off they went. Otherwise, we might never have heard of Luke Adams, the point guard for Texas Tech. Adams is deaf. He uses a cochlear implant in one ear and a hearing aid in the other. Just like Alex. Furthermore, at 10, Alex’s current answer to “what do you want to be when you grow up” is “to play in the NBA.” He lives for basketball closely followed by almost any other sport he has ever played.
As Texas Tech took the court against Pitt, Alex suddenly spotted Adams’s hearing equipment and popped out of his seat.
“Dad! He’s got a processor, like me!” Alex cried, referring to the external speech processor of a cochlear implant that sits on the ear like a large hearing aid. Then he saw the hearing aid in Adams’s other ear. He grinned from ear to ear, sat up taller, and a new light of possibility shone in his eyes.
My husband corresponded with Texas Tech and we got a lovely note back as well as a letter from Luke Adams’s grandmother. It turns out Luke led Team USA in the Deaf Olympics last summer in Bulgaria to boot. Alex now sports a Texas Tech sweatshirt.
A few weeks later, I showed Alex that the football team at Gallaudet University, the nation’s only degree-granting school for the deaf, was having a historic season. (They finished the season with a 9-2 record and earned a spot in the NCAA tournament for the first time ever.)
“They are all deaf?” he asked as we watched a video of the team doing a celebratory dance after a victory. “They are,” I said. I was treated to the same grin and a little victory dance of his own.
And now there’s Derrick Coleman, 23-year-old deaf running back for the Super Bowl bound Seattle Seahawks. First, a Duracell advertisement featuring Coleman went viral on Youtube. (He uses batteries in his hearing aids.) Then a little girl who wears hearing aids wrote him a letter to say how great she thought he was. Her letter and Coleman’s lovely, warm-hearted response played out on Twitter and are now making national news. Derrick Coleman is the inspiring, feel-good story of this year’s Super Bowl. I couldn’t be happier for him. He appears to have worked awfully hard for this moment of success. And I couldn’t be happier for Alex. Role models matter. It’s as simple as that. My husband and I tell Alex regularly to go for his dreams. But the power of seeing a string of successful deaf athletes in action has done more to drive that message home than anything we could say. Sometimes seeing really is believing.
Adams and Coleman both know that. Both graciously give their time to talk to school kids about their own experiences and the hard work they put in. I’m grateful to them for that and to all those who acknowledge the inspiration others might find in their story. Now as a result of hearing these particular stories, there’s a young deaf boy in Brooklyn imagining that he might one day go to Barclays Center not as a fan but a player — just like there are now African-American kids who believe they can some day be president and immigrant girls growing up in the Bronx who aspire to the Supreme Court.
I don’t know that Alex will ever be a professional basketball player, but I want him at this point in his life to believe that he could. I do know which team we’ll be rooting for on February 2.