Super Bowl ’22
There were countless articles which got the deaf community hyped up and on board for the Super Bowl. Many articles led us to believe that the NFL hired ASL performers (Warren Snipe aka Wawa and Sean Forbes) to perform with the rappers on stage. Dr. Dre, Eminem, Mary J. Blige, and Kendrick Lamar are well known to be the millennial’s favorite musicians. It was pure nostalgia for many millennials. The DHH community was beyond ecstatic for this kind of access to be happening! We were shocked, thrilled, and looked forward to sharing this incredible experience with our family and friends. We felt like this was the beginning of new opportunities in the future for the DHH community.
If you are interested in reading several articles that got the community hyped up for access.
Warren Snipe and Sean Forbes provided musical talents to the DHH community for years and it was impressive to find out they both were invited to perform at the Super Bowl. They both have their own lyrics which relate to DHH’s experiences. They often refer to #deaftalent on social media. The hashtag is a search forum where people can look for deaf talent whether it be in signing ASL music videos, art, painting, etc. I will include two songs down below that are personal favorites of mine. Warren Snipe was invited to sing the national anthem last year at the Super Bowl. He did a fabulous job! Many people wanted to see him again. Unfortunately, he got a few seconds of air-time and we were hoping the performance would be portrayed on a PIP screen the entire time. What is a PIP screen? It’s a picture- in-picture screen feature. You often see performers on a small screen at the corner of the television for a few seconds. According to Wikipedia, It has been around for the past 50 years (Wikipedia, n.d). It is not clear why the media doesn’t include the PIP screen often when it is beneficial and accessible to so many situations. There are assumptions that using a PIP screen requires an analog device in television and many smart t.v.s no longer have that option. I recently learned that Marlee Matlin was invited to the Super Bowl in 1993 to perform with Garth Brooks. Garth Brooks is a well-known country musician. They both performed together side by side and to my surprise, she was on television the entire time. Here’s the YouTube video, Marlee Matlin & Garth Brook’s performance in 1993 –
So, the question remains, what happened? Why wasn’t that an opportunity for new doors to be opened? Fast forward to thirty years later, the DHH community was so excited to discover that Sean Forbes and Wawa were invited to perform with these musicians. It is commonly known that the Super Bowl is one of the largest events in America. Not only that, many people often host Super Bowl parties and talk about the events for days. That also leaves many DHH people out of the conversation with peers and families. For instance, it’s related to Dinner Table Syndrome. [Check out my previous article about Dinner Table Syndrome]. Imagine a scenario where a PIP screen is included the entire time during Super Bowl halftime. Imagine everyone gathering in a room watching with eagerness and connecting with one another including the deaf guest. The deaf guest will feel a sense of belonging and inclusion. It may be 30 minutes of connecting with their friends and families. That brief connection will last a lifetime and lead to many more chances of connecting.
The Super Bowl and the media make billions of dollars a year, hire ASL interpreters and performers to perform at the largest event in America. If the media broadcasts a PIP screen during the Super Bowl halftime, I can imagine the cost will be minimal compared to hiring ASL interpreters and requiring these consumers to download a different app to watch the performance. At this recent event, whoever wanted to watch the ASL halftime performance was required to download the NBC sports app. Many DHH individuals do not have access to cable or understand the process to download, register, etc. How is that equal access when a PIP screen could be easily provided? Why do we have to work so hard to receive access and to feel included with families and friends? It’s also important to recognize and understand that 70% of DHH individuals are unemployed and will most likely never go to the Super Bowl (Insider Inc., 2022). The average air-time for the ASL performer on television is three to five seconds. The average reading level for a deaf individual is fourth grade. Many hearing people do not realize that closed captioning is not equal access as many struggle with language deprivation.
Consider the struggles that many deaf individuals experienced during this time interacting with relatives or friends. Imagine a group of people watching the Super Bowl halftime performance, waiting for the ASL performers, and looking at the deaf person for answers. The deaf individual starts to question themselves and starts seeking answers online. “Where’s Sean and Wawa?” “Why do we have to watch it on the NBC sports app?” “I thought you guys were performing with the rappers?” As a result, many DHH individuals felt frustrated, angry, embarrassed, and for some, it was no surprise. It was a common letdown that many often experience.
That leads to my other concern relating to mental health. Imagine a deaf person who struggles to read since language deprivation is a common issue within the community. Many families do not know how to sign or are tech-savvy. Imagine struggling to download the app, to register, and arrive to a point where you realize or don’t understand that you needed to have cable in order to watch the ASL performance. As a deaf person, you would feel disheartened and disappointed that you cannot participate with your family and friends. Hours ago, you told everyone about this exciting news and only now find yourself feeling like a fool.
With that being said, I hope this conversation will bring a change next year. I hope the NFL and the media realizes this is a profound issue that needs to be discussed and resolved. To hearing people, it may be just a show but it is a profound issue for the DHH community that goes deeper than lack of access. It has been thirty years since ADA was in effect and we should be moving forward, not backwards.