It’s a grand way to pitch a game, using the NFL’s marquee franchise as a way to advance an athletic cause.
But it’s also how a high school in Southern California is teaching the deaf community that once seen as an underdog is now the legitimate target of a national win.
Steve Ellison, the coach of the Deaf Mavericks Unified All-Pro Football Team, explains his team’s new gameplay: “We play well, we play big. And that, we play to win.”
Ellison began the team’s practice at a Simi Valley high school in the Los Angeles suburb of Simi Valley last year. The group has continued to put on large plays at their practices in that state as well as in Washington state and Louisiana, following recent trips to New York and Denver.
Luther Gibson, 12, from Brooklyn participates in the Deaf Mavericks United All-Pro Football team’s 3rd annual Halloween game and conditioning run at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, New York, on Wednesday 14 October 2018. Photograph: Chelsea Lauren/AP
Ellison started with three players, including the first deaf player to play for the Los Angeles Rams. To put that in perspective, the Rams are 8-4 and in second place in the NFC, trailing first-place Seattle by two games, despite the losses of both starting running backs in the latter half of the season to injury. The Deaf Mavericks team, on the other hand, is unbeaten.
It’s helped his team to spread awareness, and gain respect, for what they can do with a football and a referee’s whistle.
“I just want to give the kids a chance to play and just make the league fun, so it’s just a warmup for later on,” said Ellison, who took his job at Tuscaloosa, Alabama’s Washington Cottage School after graduating from Fresno State, where he was also a track and field athlete.
The team’s games are broadcast nationally on the Fox Sports Arizona cable network. For those not watching at home, their games are broadcast by outlets including ESPN and NFL Network.
“Since they’re so loud you just don’t hear them when they’re screaming,” said Ellison. “But when I tell the guys: ‘It’s OK, we’re going to get you in the end zone. We’re going to get you in the end zone,’ you can’t hear them. So it’s just really good communication with the officials.”
Jonathan the Deaf Mamba (@RaveBigRon), Deaf Mavericks’ quarterback is known for his creativity in pop songs he’s emulated as he pilots the team. We celebrate with Deaf Mavericks’ Army. pic.twitter.com/D73OcQRPzJ — DeafMavericks (@DeafMavericks) October 14, 2018
With plenty of exposure and the community’s support, Ellison believes the team’s players could be pro athletes.
“My goal is: one day I want to have professional athletes on the team,” he said. “I don’t think I can afford it. But we need that foundation and that sports program in the community to be able to make it happen.
“All these kids are coming out here, from age 10 and up, wanting to learn the game. It’s interesting to see some of these kids, 10 or 12 years ago, who were in wheelchairs or getting tased and put in jail, and now they’re playing in a football game. It’s special to see how far that we can go, to make all the kids feel like they can have a go at the NFL or make something better,” Ellison said.