Richard Ian Kimball Speaks on Deaf Culture and Football

Richard Ian Kimball, an author and professor at Brigham Young University, engaged listeners as he discussed the relationship between deaf culture and football at Southern Utah University’s APEX series on Feb. 4.

The presentation, which revolved around his personal research, explained many of the trials deaf people faced in the United States and how, through football, they were able to overcome several of them.

Kimball explained that he chose to focus on sports throughout history because he finds that they can help one “understand American culture.”

He concentrated on Gallaudet University throughout his address, once an all-deaf school, and their football team.

In the 19th century when the team began, deaf students were considered “defective.” In the eyes of the prejudice public, they were incapable of meeting the expectations of men at the time.

Despite this stigma, their football team was formed, and the fight for respect, both on and off the field, began.

Through the defeat of the University of Virginia in 1899 and the United States Naval Academy in 1901, they were able to do just that: gain respect.

“Proof of equality was as clear as the numbers on the scoreboard,” Kimball said.

An important aspect of the team that Kimball focused on was the use of sign language. At the time, sign language was considered “barbaric,” and many schools banned the teaching of it, focusing instead on speech and lip reading.

However, for the boys at Gallaudet, sign language was an integral part of the game.

The team ignored the distaste and integrated signs into the communication on the field. As the team became more popular, the stigma around hand gestures lessened.

“They proved that deaf students were prepared to compete in the real world.” Kimball said. It was a “victory for those mocked and marginalized.”

To this day, Gallaudet’s football team is the “center place for deaf football” as they continue to remove the stigma surrounding deaf people.

For those interested in more of Kimball’s research, his other works are “Sports in Zion: Mormon Recreation 1890-1940” and “Legends Never Die: The Afterlives of American Athlete.”

Future events and more information can be found on SUU’s APEX website.

Story and Photo by: Audrey Gee