Vikings running back Derrick Coleman may have a harder time picking up the offense than most rookies, because he has a hard time hearing the coaches. But Coleman, who wears hearing aids in both ears and still needs to read lips to make out words, says he’s heading into training camp feeling just fine about his chances of learning the professional game.
“It doesn’t affect me that much anymore,” Coleman told Scout.com. “I sat down with the coaches and players in the quarterback room and let them know, ‘Whenever we change the play, you already say it twice, just turn around one time and say it one more time. It don’t hurt nobody.”
Coleman’s hearing loss began at age 3 but has now leveled off, and he is able to make out some sounds — but not words — without his hearing aids. In college at UCLA, Coleman became adept at learning the plays by reading his coaches’ lips and studying the playbook, and he started wearing two skull caps under his helmet, one pulled tight over his hair to keep sweat off his hearing aids and another over his ears to keep the hearing aids in place. Coleman rushed for 765 yards and 11 touchdowns last season, and so far this offseason the Vikings’ coaches have liked what they’ve seen.
“I can’t say enough about how bright the kid is,” Vikings running backs coach James Saxon said. “I can’t say enough about how much of a hard worker he is. He’s at a point, I believe, just by watching him, he’s got a great desire to try and do things, do everything right. He takes meticulous notes. He asks the right questions. He doesn’t make mistakes twice. And if he does make a mistake, he wants to know why and how and how to correct it and move forward. He shows a lot of maturity that way.”
If Coleman makes it in the NFL, he wouldn’t be the first football player to overcome hearing loss and compete at a high level. The NFL has had two deaf players: Cardinals defensive lineman Bonnie Sloan, who played four games in 1973, and Broncos defensive lineman Kenny Walker, who played 31 games in the 1991 and 1992. And Gallaudet University, a school for the deaf and hard of hearing, has a football tradition that goes back to the 19th century, when the school’s football team invented the huddle to prevent opposing teams from seeing their hand signals. Coleman said he sees no reason he can’t be the next player with hearing loss to excel on the football field.
“A lot of people think the hearing is holding me back,” Coleman said. “But it’s really not.”