NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — There was never any shortage of people willing to tell Derrick Coleman what he couldn't do. If there's any consolation to being the latest of three deaf players to ever make it to the NFL, it was that: He didn't have to listen.
"Just turn your hearing aid off, Dad used to say," Coleman recalled, chuckling softly at the memory.
Inspirational tales are rarely in short supply in the NFL. With some 1,800 roster slots available each season and an ever-present risk of serious injury, every player is a long shot just to get one and then keep it. But some face much longer odds than others.
You wouldn't know that watching Coleman carry the ball for the Seahawks, or fly down the field on special teams. You might not even guess it watching him entertain a scrum of reporters during Tuesday's lengthy give-and-take session — at least not until you were close enough to see the thin wire brace behind each ear holding his hearing aids in place.
He began wearing them at age 3, after being diagnosed with severe hearing loss. He still doesn't know what caused the impairment — "It just up and left," is the way Coleman described it — but either way, the taunts began soon after. From that day forward, the lessons his parents drilled into him about being "different" had only so much to do with trying to fit in; mostly, they were about how much more effort he'd have to put in to stand out.
"The fact that the guy is even here is a testament to that work," marveled Broncos safety David Bruton, who might be called upon to stop Coleman. "I can't even imagine what it would be like."
Yet some of the workarounds Coleman devised actually turned out to be advantages, especially after he learned to read lips.
"That's why you see coaches talk like this," he laughed, covering his mouth with his hand. "Because of guys like me."
On a good day, with both hearing aids in underneath his helmet, Coleman figures he's on the lower end of average, maybe eight on a scale of zero to 10. On a bad day, with the sweat running into the earpieces and the static crackling, he's a six. Without the aids in, he's a two or less.
In the Seattle huddle, quarterback Russell Wilson doesn't wear his mouthpiece, so Coleman gets a clear look at his lips. If he's unsure about any of the calls, Coleman repeats them to teammates before they break for the line of scrimmage.