Weeknight high school football is all about the atmosphere. The teamwork, the coaching, and the sound of the crowd. But a recent GEICO ESPN High School Football Showcase made an exception to that rule. It aired the first game in its history featuring an all deaf high school: California School for the Deaf.
In this blog, I will review the work done by ESPN to include deaf athletes in the excitement of high school football, and the importance of including disabled athletes across the country.
In 2015, ESPN aired a special presentation on its E:60 program called Silent Night Lights. The 15 minute segment told the story of the California School for the Deaf in Fremont, California. The school, which was founded in 1850, has 450 deaf students, all of whom learn and are taught in American Sign Language. And that extends to the football field.
The CDS Eagles teammates say that they are often seen as underdogs in their games because they can't hear. But using signs and signals they are able to communicate, even changing up plays on the fly with no huddle. When the deaf athletes win, some hearing teams get angry, but the Eagles don't let that bother them. Their 2014 season ended up 8-2. Every win was a shut-out. But then they lost in the playoffs.
Then, on October 20, 2016, the California School for the Deaf was back on the air, live. As part of the GEICO ESPN High School Football Showcase, the team faced off against Woodland Christian. It was the first time ESPN aired a game featuring an all-deaf team. Martin Khodabakhshian, E:60's senior producer, said on ESPN Front Row:
To have the opportunity to direct the documentary "Silent Nights Lights" with my incredibly talented and passionate production team was a true honor and blessing.
And now to see that lead to ESPN airing one of their games live on our air? In the words of CSD Fremont’s head football coach Warren Keller, this is going to be "a historic event for the deaf community and the school."
Carrie Kreiswirth continues:
I’m so thrilled that we as a company are covering the school and game the way we are, and bringing a national spotlight to the accomplishments that the deaf community is accomplishing especially at the California School for the Deaf-Fremont.
It’s going to be one of the most memorable events of my career to be allowed to be a part of the broadcast and help in any way I can and be on the ground this week. Simply amazing.
The telecast included several deaf-oriented aspects. Starting lineups were signed. The CDS cheerleaders were shown signing the national anthem. Several mothers were interviewed about their sons' participation in the sport in light of their disabilities.
After the game was aired live, ESPN also posted a recap on its website including an ASL interpreter and a vocal interpreter to help viewers understand the players. When time ran out, California School for the Deaf, Fremont, was on top 43-0, their 4th shut-out of the 2016 season.
ESPN's historic decision to air an all-deaf football team's game highlights the importance of disability rights in public schools. All students are entitled to access to public education. But often, students with deafness or other disabilities find their way to an education barred due to a lack of accommodations. ESPN's work with CDS shows that not only are deaf students able to compete in sports at a high level, they can excel.
At Eisenberg & Baum, LLP, we want to win for our deaf clients, too. At the Eisenberg & Baum Law Center for Deaf and Hard of Hearing, we advocate for students, employees, tenants and patients who need help getting the protection and accommodations they need. We use tools like the Americans with Disabilities Act to make sure deaf individuals have access to education, work, medical care and housing. Our deaf-friendly office provides sign language interpreters and videophones for our clients. Our team includes a CODA attorney fluent in sign language and a deaf rights liaison, to make sure their stories are heard.
We applaud ESPN for the work it is doing to spotlight deaf athletes. And we hope that it will be the start of a trend toward treating disabled students with respect and dignity, and give them a fair shot at greatness.