Unbelievable Story of Seahawk Derrick Coleman: He's Not Supposed to Be Here

Mike Freeman@@mikefreemanNFLNFL National Lead WriterJanuary 23, 2014

Seattle Seahawks' Derrick Coleman speaks with reporters before NFL football practice Thursday, Jan. 16, 2014, in Renton, Wash. The Seahawks play the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday in the NFC championship game. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

They marvel…and these are not men who marvel easily.

"Everyone is impressed by him," said Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson. "Not just as a player but as a person."

"I don't know if I could overcome what he's overcome," said Seahawks coach Pete Carroll. 

"Physically, he's a star, straight up," said Seattle's Zach Miller. "Beyond that, he's a lot more. He's a hero to a lot of people."

They marvel because Seattle running back Derrick Coleman makes it easy.

"He's a humble guy who works hard," said cornerback Richard Sherman, "and has never made an excuse. He's an inspiration."

"He's one of those guys that doesn't let anything hold him back," said Seattle's Cliff Avril.

Then there was this letter written by a nine-year-old girl from New Jersey (and posted on her father's Twitter account) who was inspired—that word again—by Coleman:

@JakeIsMobile on Twitter

People around Coleman speak so positively and vociferously about him. It's in direct contrast to the past. Coleman's been deaf since he was three years old and spent much of his life being ostracized and told what wasn't possible.

In a league that has a rich history of tales—stories and men of remarkable feats, men who have fought in wars, become surgeons, heads of state—the life of Derrick Coleman is just as impressive as any.

"I don't know if I'm an inspiration," Coleman told me recently. "I just try to be me."


It's believed Coleman is the first deaf offensive player in NFL history. Yet he is more than a historical benchmark.

The first thing you have to know about Coleman is that no one thought he would ever be here, at the Super Bowl. Or hell, in the NFL at all. Coleman was always told that deaf people could not participate in team sports. You have to hear, he was told.

"There was always someone telling me what I couldn't do," he said.

Some of that would change. He became a running back for UCLA, and while he wasn't Maurice Jones-Drew, he was still pretty good.

Why wasn't Coleman drafted, even in the late rounds? It's entirely possible teams simply didn't think he was good enough, but it had to be more than that. Coleman rushed for over 700 yards and 11 touchdowns his senior season. That kind of production usually earns a late-round selection.

How does a deaf man function in a highly verbal profession where listening is so vital?

He uses hearing aids, which was the subject of an outstanding commercial featuring Coleman that has since gone viral.

Coleman likes to describe the ability to hear on a numerical scale of 1 to 10. People with good hearing fall in the 7-or-higher range. With his hearing aids, Coleman says he's a solid 7. Without them, he explained, he's a 1. Maybe less.

Coleman can read lips, and this allows him to get the play calls. It's been well documented that in Seattle's huddle, when Coleman is in the game, Wilson will remove his mouthpiece and call the play so Coleman can understand him.

It's no coincidence that Coleman ended up in Seattle. He signed with the Vikings as an undrafted free agent, but they cut him that summer. Then he went to the Seahawks. Carroll allows personalities to blossom—and as long as a player produces, Carroll lets the player be himself.

In Coleman, what Carroll developed wasn't just a good football talent who has become a valuable special teams player. He developed one of the team's more inspirational men in what has become a special season.


Think about all of what Coleman does during an average NFL practice or game. Think about how difficult it is. Think about the brain power it requires to read someone's lips, get the play and absorb all of the information in a matter of seconds. Then, oh yeah, execute everything you just digested.

This is why each of Coleman's teammates are in such amazement and why the respect is so grand; they can't imagine playing this game with such a large impediment. What Coleman is showing us is that a special person can transform something as brutal as near-total hearing loss into a positive.

The Seahawks often talk about being limitless. It's a Carroll thing—we wouldn't understand. Carroll tells the players they are constantly underestimated and people don't see just how special they are. The same could be said for Coleman.

Remember the little girl who wrote Coleman? Coleman wrote her back. The letter was, well, typical Coleman:

@DC2forlife on Twitter

The Seahawks marvel…and these are not men who marvel easily.

In a cynical world, none of us do.

Then we met Derrick Coleman.

Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.