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NFL Features -Hand-waves and high-fives for Anderson

June 25, 2007

By Glenn B. Anderson
Special to NFL.com

(Editor’s note: Glenn Anderson is the proud father of Jamaal Anderson, the Atlanta Falcons’ first-round pick in this year’s NFL draft. Jamaal was a star defensive end at the University of Arkansas, where Glenn, who has been deaf since he was 6 years old, is the school’s Professor and Director of Training for the Research and Training Center for Persons Who Are Deaf or Hard of Hearing.)

NFL Draft Weekend was one of the most memorable occasions our family has ever experienced. On Friday afternoon, several of our family members arrived in Little Rock from Richmond, Virginia. My wife, Karen, who went to meet them at the airport, found herself and the family greeted by a local television news reporter and camera crew. Convening at our home later that day and watching the interviews on the evening newscasts was a terrific way to “kick off” our weekend. It was an especially heartwarming experience for Karen’s 78-year-old aunt to see herself on television.

Jamaal Anderson and father Glenn hug following Atlanta's drafting of Jamaal.  
Jamaal Anderson and father Glenn hug following Atlanta’s drafting of Jamaal.    

The next day, our son Jamaal’s draft watch party was held in the Pinnacle Room on the top floor of the Peabody Hotel in downtown Little Rock. Over 150 people came. It was a diverse gathering of deaf and hearing family and friends. As Karen mentioned in a telephone interview later that day with Jeff Schultz, reporter from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “We had everybody here. [We had] a mixture of people — black, white, purple, gray, people with disabilities, [deaf people and] jocks. We had all cultures, all people. This means so much for everybody.”

Three televisions were set up — one in a large conference room and two in an outer area where food was served. Jamaal asked Karen and I to sit with him at a small table near one of the televisions outside the conference room. The mood on the entire floor was filled with excitement and anticipation. Everyone was upbeat and their eyes were glued to the TV sets once the NFL draft began. There were rounds of applause as the first seven selections were announced. Then, when it was time for Atlanta with the eighth pick, the whole floor erupted in sheer joy as Jamaal’s name was announced. There were hand-waves (in deaf culture, deaf people wave their hands high above their heads so other deaf people can see rather than hear the applause), high-fives, hugs and tears everywhere.

Jamaal’s selection as an NFL top-10 draft pick by the Falcons is one of the proudest moments I have ever experienced. That special occasion brought back many fond memories we’ve had as a family watching him grow and evolve into an adult who is now preparing to embark on a career as a professional athlete.

As our family and friends celebrated Jamaal’s accomplishments that day, I was especially thankful that he had not allowed his frustrations to get the best of him when he wanted to quit his junior high school football team back in the 7th grade. Because of his size, he was assigned to play on the offense line as a center. He felt playing center was too constraining and that he was capable of contributing more to the team.

I shared with him the experiences I had when I played for my high school basketball team. At the time, I was the only deaf player in the city who played on a Chicago public school team. Although I was a capable player, I suspect because I was viewed as “handicapped,” I spent my entire high school basketball career on the bench. I was also a regular target of the players who enjoyed laughing and making fun of me because I could not hear and I used American Sign Language when conversing with my other deaf classmates. Also, I did not speak as clearly and “normally” as other students who could hear.

My father, who was a building custodian at a junior high school, encouraged me to stay on the team and not give up because I was “buried” on the bench. To him, being part of the team still provided me opportunities to “learn the game” and develop my skills as a basketball player. Even though it was tempting at times to want to quit, I decided to stick with it.

When I later entered college, I had the chance to play basketball for Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., and in two-and-a-half seasons I scored more than 1,000 points. I was eventually inducted into the Gallaudet University Athletic Hall of Fame.

After obtaining my master’s degree, I learned from my former high school coach that I was the only one from that team to play college ball and also earn a degree. I believe sharing that story with Jamaal helped give him the encouragement to continue playing for his junior high school football team. The next year, in eighth grade, he was moved to wide receiver and caught two touchdown passes in his first game. He went on to have a terrific season and during his high school career he broke several school records as a wide receiver.

Although my father is no longer here to share this special occasion with our family, my former Gallaudet roommate asked me what I envisioned he would have said about Jamaal’s accomplishments. I believe my father would have beamed with pride and shared his usual wise words, “Like I always said, just because the chips are down, that’s not a good reason to give up and quit. There may be detours, so you make adjustments and change directions. But you have to be hungry and keep on, like a marathon runner. No one can stop you from trying to achieve your dreams except you.”

Watching Jamaal through the years at countless practices and games and sharing the many joys — as well as occasional disappointments along the way — has been an incredible experience. I would not trade those memories for anything. I am immensely proud of all that Jamaal has achieved and our family is excitedly looking forward to experiencing the next chapter of Jamaal’s life with the Atlanta Falcons.


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