For the month of February I’m celebrating African American History Month by focusing on individuals who have made a positive impact by overcoming barriers and changing perceptions by disclosing their disability at the same time showcasing their ability and success in their field. Since I’m a huge NFL fan and the Super bowl is upon us, my first profile is Derrick Coleman: the fullback for the Seattle Seahawks.
Derrick Coleman, a defending NFL champion, ended his 2014 NFL season when he broke his foot during pregame warm-ups before Seattle’s Week 7 loss to the St. Louis Rams. To make matters worse, Coleman had recently lost his Super Bowl ring in a rental car after showing it off to a few kids and then hiding it under the seat. Fortunately, Coleman is very familiar with overcoming adversity. The NFL fullback has been deaf since the age of three.
For Coleman, the road to the NFL was surely an uphill struggle – picked on in school, his father had to battle for him to play Pop Warner, and his first carry on the field in college resulted in a fumble. Those struggles contributed to who he is today. Derrick Coleman exemplifies two characteristics any employer, in the corporate world or the NFL, is looking for in an employee – perseverance and innovation. People with disabilities persevere when barriers present themselves, and they are innovators , expert at effectively applying creative strategies, tools and technology to get the job done and identifying alternative solutions to getting to the end zone!
Coleman insists, “football saved my life.” In addition to learning his playbook, Coleman worked even harder learning to read lips and adjusting to hearing aids. To those employers out there worried about the cost and aggravation of accommodations for employees with a disability, watch Pro Bowl and Super Bowl winning quarterback Russell Wilson after a play as he listens to his coach give him the next play, huddles up ten giant players to inform them of the play call and then goes to the line of scrimmage where eleven other men face him to make sure he doesn’t do his job right – all within 40 seconds. If you look closely during that “split second” you will see Wilson make sure his lips are visible to Coleman, his fullback, even giving a little head nod to make sure the play is understood. A quick, easy and achievable accommodation at absolutely no cost to the Seahawks!
At times, Wilson gets to the line of scrimmage, is able to read the defensive ready to ruin his plan and calls an “audible.” If you’re not familiar with an audible in the football world it is when the quarterback makes changes in the offensive play at the line of scrimmage. In the corporate world, an audible might be best compared to having to develop and implement “plan B” and get your entire team aligned before a client meeting in less than 20 minutes. Just think about that for a second. With the infamous 67,000 screaming fans inside the Seahawks CenturyLink Field it’s important every one of Wilson’s teammates quickly understands the new play. The play clock may be under fifteen seconds now, but Wilson easily and automatically turns around to Coleman and again makes sure his lips can be read.
Sometimes you will see Coleman take the initiative, sidling up to Wilson and grabbing his face mask to make sure he reads those lips. It’s the determination of Coleman, his teammates and the whole Seahawks organization that has taken them to great heights. They work as a team, contributing their individual strength and skill. It reminds me of something said recently by a hiring leader for a corporate client we work with on their national disability hiring initiative. His team is now made up of almost 50% employees with a disability, many of whom are veterans with a service-related disability. “They are my team and we get the job done. I don’t think of it as disability inclusion – that’s not even something I think about.”
As the Seahawks went on to rout future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos, Coleman was introduced to the world in this Duracell commercial below.
Coleman is recognized as a hero to most (just check his twitter https://twitter.com/DC2forlife), but Coleman has now found a hero of his own in David Mulugheta, a sport’s agent who discovered the ring in the rental car. Even though, Coleman sits out the playoffs watching his team defend their crown he has been reunited with his ring – a symbol of the journey he has endured and the ultimate prize for his struggle, determination and most importantly his ability.