If someone says you can’t achieve your dreams, Seattle Seahawks Derrick Coleman’s advice is just don’t listen to them. That’s what he’s done his entire life. Deaf since he was three years old, the 24-year-old fullback was told he would never make it to the pros, but if you’ve ever watched Coleman play football or seen his viral Duracell commercial from last year, you’ll know being told “you can’t” never stopped him.
The sports world loves an underdog story and Coleman’s journey to the NFL is among the most inspiring in recent years. As a kid, he was called “Four Ears” because of his hearing aids and he was beat up just for being different. The challenges young Derrick faced made his supportive parents worry about how he would make his way in the world, but then in the 6th grade he found football and it changed his life.
Through hard work, determination and sheer ingenuity – he learned to read other players’ lips and wears a special skullcap to keep his hearing aids in place under his helmet – Coleman went onto play college football at UCLA and eventually did what so many people said was impossible: he made it to the pros, becoming the first deaf offensive player in the NFL, and a Super Bowl champ when the Seahawks won the 2014 title.
No stranger to adversity, Coleman suffered another recent setback in October when he fractured his foot during pre-game warm-ups, effectively ending his season. Even though he won’t be on the field with the Seahawks as they face off against the New England Patriots this Super Bowl Sunday, Coleman is a champ the NFL can be proud of − he embodies the winning spirit on and off the field.
We caught up with Coleman as he championed a cause close to his heart: Listen Carefully, a Starkey Hearing Foundation program to raise awareness about noise-induced hearing loss in teens. (Check out his PSA for the Listen Carefully video contest you can vote on now.)
In addition to spreading the word about protecting our hearing, Coleman shared a lot about the important people who have inspired him, where he keeps his Super Bowl ring (the one he recently lost and then found), and who he thinks is going to win the Super Bowl (who do ya think?).
You’ve inspired a lot of people by overcoming challenges in your life. Who has inspired you the most in your life and why?
The people who inspired me the most are definitely my parents, brother and sister. They never treated me different regardless of my hearing problems. Everyone has problems and no one is perfect, but that doesn’t mean you can’t try to do your best and excel in whatever interests you. Never let problems or impairments get in the way of achieving your goals.
Do you have any historical heroes? Is there anyone in history or the history of sports who you’ve learned from?
Aside from my family, Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles are my heroes. They did not let their disability or fear keep them from pursuing their dreams. They made the best of their situation and followed their passion.
A lot of people doubted you could make it to the NFL. What advice would you give to people who are told “you can’t do something” or are filled with self-doubt?
No one likes to hear the words “you can’t.” When it comes to confidence and self esteem, it doesn’t matter what other people think. Stay committed to what you are working hard to achieve. Ignore the naysayers. Just be true to yourself at all times!
What would you tell the people who doubted you?
Nothing. I just proved them wrong!
What are the biggest challenges of being a deaf football player? Does your deafness give you any advantages over hearing players?
Believe it or not, my biggest challenge is getting up in the morning. Being deaf means I need to do the extra work, study more and be more alert at all times. In order to do that, I give myself a head start by getting up early. I work hard all week so that on game day, there are no excuses for making mistakes.
Why did you get involved in helping to promote Listen Carefully?
I love being deaf, but I know the struggles that come with it because I live it every day. Being born with hearing loss is one thing, but losing it when you're a teenager or older, I don’t wish that upon anyone. Listen Carefully, a Starkey Hearing Foundation program, is working to raise awareness about noise-induced hearing loss, a problem that affects 1 in 6 American teens and has increased 30 percent in the past decade. Listen Carefully reminds us to protect our hearing and not take it for granted.
Why is it important to educate young people about hearing loss?
As a kid and teenager with hearing loss, I always blasted my music and kept my TV too loud. I used to think I was the only one, but have found that a lot of kids are exposing themselves to loud music and sounds, unaware of the potential damage they are doing to their hearing. Once the damage is done and hearing is lost, there is no way to get it back.
You recently lost and then found your Super Bowl ring. Where do you keep your ring now?
It's in my safe, that's in another safe.
What has football given to you? If you weren’t a football player, what would you be doing?
Football has given me confidence that I can do anything. I found something where people judge me not on my ability to hear, but on how I perform and my athletic ability. If I weren't playing pro football, I would love to coach sports on any level.
Who is going to win the Super Bowl this year?
That's a great question. Remind me, who is playing in it?