Football season is back baybeeeeeeeee! Last night, the 2021 NFL season kicked off with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers eeking out a win against the Dallas Cowboys, 31-29. The Washington Football Team will take the field against the Los Angeles Chargers at 1 p.m. this Sunday.

One of the biggest staples of football is the huddle. To explain what likely doesn’t need explanation, in between downs, a team will gather in a tight circle and go over their next play. The quarterback will point to some Xs and Os on their sleeve, and then they’ll break it up and try to initiate the plan. The huddle is essentially baked into how the entire game is formatted.

But the huddle wasn’t part of the game right away, and its creation has ties to D.C. AND the Deaf community. To explain, let’s take it back to 1894. Players would normally talk on the field before each play. That probably worked great for hearing players, but for Deaf players, it was an issue. Signing openly telegraphed your next move to the rival team, whether they were Deaf or hearing.

That’s when Gallaudet’s quarterback Paul Hubbard created the concept of the huddle. To prevent sign stealing, he got his players to congregate with their backs to the line of scrimmage so the defense had zero idea what the team was going to do. Brianne Burger, a Deaf advocate in the D.C. area, details the story. She says the players realized “‘Oh, wait a minute, we need to go into the huddle. We need to be able to find a way they can’t understand.’”

“So they started doing that and then all the other hearing teams were like ‘Hey, we should start doing this too because we don’t want the other team to hear us.’ It was started by Deaf folks.”

Gallaudet credits Hubbard’s leadership with helping the team beat the Pennsylvania School for the Deaf, the New York School for the Deaf, and even the Naval Academy. The team became city champs. Hubbard would later employ his huddle strategy when he was an instructor for the Kansas School for the Deaf, and the rest is history. Gallaudet knows its history to the point that it has “Home of the Huddle” as a registered trademark.

It’s an incredible contribution, and one of many the Deaf, Deafblind and Hard of Hearing community has provided the world. From Ludwig Van Beethoven, Thomas Edison, and Helen Keller to current celebrities like Will.i.am and Jane Lynch, the community has left its mark on history.

D.C.’s Deaf community is no exception to contributions. Gallaudet University is the oldest Deaf university in the world and was founded while the Civil War was still raging in 1864. Over a century later, Gallaudet students’ successful protest for a “Deaf President Now” in 1988 is credited with helping pass the Americans with Disabilities Act. Also in the world of sports, some credit D.C. baseball player William Ellsworth “Dummy” Hoy, who played in the MLB from 1888 to 1902, for developing safe and out signals with the catcher so he could understand the next play from the outfield.

But even with all this rich history, advocates like Burger say D.C.’s government is still leaving the Deaf community behind. The D.C. Office for Deaf, Deafblind and Hard of Hearing (ODBH) finally received funding in D.C.’s budget for FY2022. It’s great that the office now exists with funding, but the District lagged behind almost 40 states with similar offices. Burger told City Paper last month that D.C.’s government has told her to “go to Gallaudet” to get city problems solved. She and other advocates say Mayor Muriel Bowser‘s office hasn’t substantially engaged with D.C.’s Deaf community.

While the office is funded, Burger and others are worried Bowser won’t listen to their thoughts on who should run it. They even worry about her tapping someone who doesn’t know American Sign Language.

“If you haven’t been amazing with the Deaf or Hard of Hearing or Deaf-Blind community for such a long time… who do you have in mind for the job?” she said. “ We are hoping she’ll want our input. That’s where we are right now.”

Only time will tell what this office will look like when it makes it to the end zone.

Bailey Vogt (tips? bvogt@washingtoncitypaper.com)

  • To see today’s COVID-19 data, visit our coronavirus dashboard.
  • A Southeast school honored a teacher this morning who died on 9/11. At Ketcham Elementary School, the daughter of James Debeuneure, a popular fifth-grade teacher who was on the plane that was hijacked and crashed into the Pentagon, was given a memorial plaque. [WTOP]
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