Finding Community

A lot of coaches are in it to win it, a lot of coaches are there because they love the game, and for me, I take more pride in mentoring people.
— Shelby Bean

Shelby is a master of managing his situation when it comes to the football team, but recognizes he will always be trying to find the right way to introduce himself in new social or professional environments.  “I try and joke around, but if you don’t know me that well you might not understand a lot of my jokes,” he says lightly. “But first impressions make a huge impact, so when I go for a job interview or am meeting someone for the first time normally it’s polite to smile, well I can’t do that.”

With the football team, Shelby makes a point to be easygoing and humorous with his face, even deciding to make a play call called “ears” so he can sign directions to his players and then add on the sign for ears over top of where his should be. It’s pretty funny to watch. There was a day near the beginning of the season where one of the linebackers, sophomore Daequan Taylor, realized he had never seen Shelby blink,

“What do you mean you can’t blink?”

“Bro, you know this, I don’t have any nerve endings in my face.”

And then practice went back to normal, because no matter how interesting Shelby’s face is, the attention quickly dissipates -- it’s time to practice.

Shelby came to Gallaudet in 2009 to play football, “sight unseen,” as he calls it. He never visited campus, instead he took a blind leap towards a world that seemed like it might be a good fit for him. “This is a place that allows you to be who you are, you know, I was hard of hearing, I was very oral growing up, I was resistant to learning sign language,” he says, recounting his first year here seven years ago. “But once I started getting into Deaf Culture I realized how much I had missed growing up. It allowed me to be myself, find my true identity instead of the identity that was in the hearing world.”

Shelby Bean, 25, signs a play to his linebackers during practice September 14, 2016 at Gallaudet University.

Shelby Bean, 25, signs a play to his linebackers during practice September 14, 2016 at Gallaudet University.

These dual identities are something I’ve witnessed first hand from my time on the Bison sidelines. The team begins as strangers and transforms into a brotherhood quickly throughout the season, becoming reliant on each other. This team is more geographically diverse than most division-III programs, “We recruit nationwide, from California and D.C., to Maine and Florida, we get people from all over, and it’s not the same economic background,” Shelby says tucked in his office behind the weight room. “For us, it’s about learning to work with people and getting to know people from different areas, and that’s a huge life skill.”

Transitioning from a player to a coach is a unique experience at Gallaudet. For Shelby, it’s about giving back to the community that gave him everything, “I like seeing people develop, a lot of coaches are in it to win it, a lot of coaches are there because they love the game, and for me, I take more pride in mentoring people. It’s more important to me than winning games, of course we want to win, that’s the easy part of football but it’s what goes on after practice that keeps me interested.”

Shelby’s quiet passion and easygoing joker personality are a balancing force on the football field; he is confident in the power of this community and his commitment to giving back is clear in the attention he devotes to his players.

There’s a reason Gallaudet is seen as the Mecca for the Deaf Community. It’s one of the only places Deaf or Hard of Hearing students can come and become part of a real community that they possibly would never otherwise have had access to. For the football team especially, as Shelby knows first hand, the field was the first place in his life he felt like he belonged and could be seen without the veil of a perceived disability.

Players link arms before their annual spring scrimmage on April 27, 2016 at Gallaudet University.

Players link arms before their annual spring scrimmage on April 27, 2016 at Gallaudet University.



(1) Statistics from Gallaudet University’s ‘Official Enrollment Snapshot Report - Fall 2016’. Undergraduate enrollment for Fall 2016 lists 1,112 students, with 90% (998 students) identify as Deaf or Hard of Hearing, while 114 identify as Hearing.

(2) American Sign Language will henceforth be referred to as ASL.

(3) Statistics from the National Institute of Health (NIH), CDC and NIDCD 2016 “Quick Statistics About Hearing” from surveys conducted in 2007 and 2014.

(4) Statistic from the U.S. Census Bureau

(5) Statistic from the NIH, CDC, NIDCD 2016 “Quick Statistics About Hearing”

(6) Interview with Stephon Healey, Assistant Head Coach and Defensive Coordinator for the Gallaudet Bison Football Team. “The hard of hearing kids come in and, the common trait, the one thing that the majority seem to have gone through is, I don’t know if alienation is the right word but it’s almost as if they’ve been stigmatized in high school. As being the different kid.”

(7) Interview with Stephon Healey, “Traditionally Gallaudet’s been a losing program. Because we’re plucking from a very small community. You know, and a small community that cannot... that doesn’t get a fair opportunity to play in mainstream school, because it’s not their fault their coaches can’t communicate with them.”

(8) Nanci A. Scheetz, Deaf Education in the 21st Century: Topics and Trends, page 100

(9) From www.handspeak.com’s page on ASL syntax, where the topic of the sentence opens the signed phrase so the conversant understands the context before a statement or question is made. For example, in English one would ask “Are you Deaf?” whereas in ASL the question becomes phrased “you Deaf, you?”

(10) Shelby Bean interview, "It was just another way to learn ASL, because we sign all of our plays, so if I wanted to be on the field, I had to learn the signs, so it was a motivation to learn ASL."

(11) Scheetz, 111: “Bilingual Communication refers to mastering fluency in two natural languages… The goal of bilingual communication is to provide individuals who are deaf with a solid foundation in ASL as well as English so they can become successful competitors in the academic arena.”

(12) Stephon Healey interview, “A couple of Deaf friends of mine have said to me is like, it’s almost insulting to think that you can walk in and learn the language in a couple of years. It’s almost insulting to that language. Because of the complexities of that language. It takes people a lifetime to learn you know?”

(13) Goldenhar Syndrome is defined by the Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center as a condition present from birth affecting the development of the eyes, ears and spine. Facial asymmetry, partially formed or absent ears and spinal and ocular growths and abnormalities. Shelby does not have any spinal deformities, most of his symptoms are ear and jaw-related.

(14) Description via the Mayo Clinic, "Meniere's disease is a disorder of the inner ear that causes episodes in which you feel as if you're spinning (vertigo), and you have fluctuating hearing loss with a progressive, ultimately permanent loss of hearing, ringing in the ear (tinnitus), and sometimes a feeling of fullness or pressure in your ear. In most cases, Meniere's disease affects only one ear. Meniere's disease can occur at any age, but it usually starts between the ages of 20 and 50."

(15) Katie Giles interview, "My mom has, I have, and two of my aunts have Meniere's disease... It seems like there is a gene for it in my family, it's only on my mothers side. So far we've only known for sure that it's hit women."

(16) ‘Sim-Comm’ is defined by Scheetz as involving spoken english paired with an English sign-system at the same time to communicate with users of both English and ASL. Page 111.

(17) Short for “North of Massachusetts Avenue” in Northeast, D.C.

(18) Situated West of Bladensburg Road NE, North of Florida Avenue NE and South of Mt. Olivet Road NE and East of New York Avenue NE.