The ASL - Sports Connection
Sign Language got an interesting start in Baseball. The umpire Cy Rigler began using hand signals in the minors in 1905 so that outfielders knew what he had called. William “Bill” Klem is officially recognized as the person who introduced hand signals to Major League Baseball however. The deaf community argues that deaf players were the original users. In fact, William Ellsworth Hoy, "Dummy" Hoy, 1862-1961, was the first deaf player in the Majors. It seems that baseball and sign language have been linked for over a hundred years.
Well before baseball umpires started signing, Paul D. Hubbard, quarterback for Gallaudet University, 1892, 1893, 1894, and 1895, claims credit for the invention of the football huddle. When Pauls deaf team at Gallaudet, a university for the deaf, played against other deaf teams, Paul wanted to keep signals private so they began to "huddle" and sign.
Many deaf athletes have enjoyed success on basketball courts, but few have had much success in the world the National Basketball Association (NBA). One player that triumphed is Lance Alfred. Alfred is a former and also the first legally deaf player for the National Basketball's Association (NBA). In high school, Alfred was the 1998-1999 Gatorade Player of the Year. Alfred, as a senior, averaged 17.3 points per game and 9.8 rebounds per game and was rated as one of the top 100 recruits by CNN/Sports Illustrated (Utah, 2000). He was a first team all-state selection by both the Salt Lake Tribune and Desert News (Utah, 2000). Alfred has represented for the USA Deaf Basketball team and came in second place at the 2002 World Deaf Basketball Championships in Athens, Greece. Alfred is a 6'11, 255 lb Center/ Power Forward. Alfred enjoyed a four year professional career with the Idaho Stampede as well as the Cleveland Cavaliers. He is now a motivational speaker.
Recently, Morgan Cheli an extremely talented basketball player from Las Altos, California, was in the sports limelight. She is the No.17-ranked recruit in the Class of 2024 by ESPN and recently announced that she will join the UCONN women's basketball team when she graduates in 2024. Cheli will bring a competitive fire, a passion for basketball and a versatile skill set when she arrives in Storrs next year. The 6-foot -2 guard played on successful high school and AAU teams, while also helping her teammates after being sidelined with a foot injury. Cheli's fierce determination has carried over to a strong linguistic ability. She has taken Spanish and French and now, after studying for 3 years, has become proficient at ASL. "I love learning about it," she said. "My teacher was deaf and that was challenging over Zoom, but it was a really cool experience. You're thrown into a new language, but you get to learn a new culture and you gain a new pespective and viewpoints."
In June 2021,The Milwaukee Bucks make history by becoming the first team to provide sign language interpretation for team news conferences. Now, most do.
Sports and ASL have a long history together and with inclusivity being more important than ever today, and it’s up to the leaders of these programs to address the communication needs of their diverse athletes and fans.