Deaf Athletes

Sports in the deaf community promote social interaction and athletic competition among profoundly hard-of-hearing and deaf individuals. There is a vast history of sports associated with deaf culture, since the football huddle was invented in 1894 at Gallaudet. Deaf sports organizations are at multiple levels, including state, regional, national, and international. Many deaf people participate in deaf athletic competitions and some even play in the Olympic Games. The following are some of the most famous deaf athletes in the history of sports.

William Ellsworth: Born on May 23, 1862, William Ellsworth was an American center-fielder in Major League Baseball. He played for several teams from 1888 to 1902, including two Washington, D.C. franchises and the Cincinnati Reds. Ellsworth is noted for being one of the most accomplished deaf players in major league history. He suffered deafness after acquiring meningitis at the age of three. Ellsworth became the third deaf person to play in the major leagues and the first deaf athlete to gain membership to the American Athletic Association of the Deaf Hall of Fame.

Gertrude Ederle: Gertrude was born on October 23, 1906 and is well known for being a famous competitive swimmer. She was also the first woman to swim across the English Channel in 1926. Gertrude trained at the Women’s Swimming Association, which also produced various other swimming competitors, such as Esther Williams and Eleanor Holm. She joined the WSA when she was only fifteen years old. Ederle began having poor hearing as a child due to measles. By the 1940s, she had become completely deaf. She spent the rest of her life teaching swimming to the deaf community.

Shelley Beattie: Born in 1967, Shelley Beattie was a top professional bodybuilder. She once held the record for bench pressing a total of 315 pounds. Deafness did not hold her back and Beattie was able to finish in the top three at both the Ms. Olympia and Ms. International competitions. Beattie lost her hearing at the age of three due to an overdose of aspirin. Like many deaf people who go on to be athletes, Beattie was naturally talented and focused on sports throughout her lifetime.

James Burke: Well known in the deaf community, James Burke was a boxer and held the English heavyweight championship. He was the first modern boxer to kill his opponent, as bare-knuckle contests were still going on at this time. He was a large man, standing 6’2” and weighing more than 200 pounds. Deaf culture holds a place for Burke, as his name was added to the International Boxing Hall of Fame nearly 150 years later in 1992.

Curtis Pride: Pride was born in 1968 and was a major league outfielder. He later went on to become a baseball coach at Gallaudet University. Deaf education shows that Pride was deaf at birth due to rubella, but developed his oral skills with his 5 percent residual hearing. Deafness did not stand in front of his dreams, as Pride went on to make it to the majors with Montreal and became the first deaf player in the major leagues since 1945. In eleven seasons, he batted .250 with a total of 20 home runs and 82 runs batted in 421 games, creating a name for himself in deaf culture.

Deaf education is an important topic that many overlook. There have been numerous deaf people who have gone on to become famous athletes. Many more went on to play in the Major Leagues and others earned a number of sports awards and championships. Studies in deaf education have shown that a disability, such as deafness, does not need to stop motivated individuals from reaching their goals.