Read this in silence. Soak in the quiet, and think about what it would be like to live in that silence for a full 90 minutes with 10 other women who are equally void of the sounds around them. Now, on top of that, play one of the most tasking sports in the world, all while trying to win a championship. Do it with minimal funding and limited support. Be five-time gold medalists at this feat. And then walk down the street after accomplishing that feat and have no one know the difference.
Welcome to the world of the US Deaf Women’s National Team (USDWNT) – the best team you’ve never heard of.
Soccer is a grueling sport on the body, and mentally it is just as tough. Working as a cohesive team doesn’t always go the way you expect it to – you make a run that someone doesn’t see, or you close down an attack on the back line only to realize that there is no support for your center back. It’s why communication is key. It’s why you always see goalies screaming at their wall during a free kick, or the coach shouting out movements and making adjustments from the sidelines. Players have to move and adapt and work in sync. And one of the easiest ways to do that is through speech.
But that is not an option for the Deaf Women’s National Team. Their style of play and their intuitiveness with each other is something that you can’t just throw someone into. They have to work twice as hard to make it look just as easy as any other team would. Their kind of cohesiveness is a rare thing among teams. I mean, we get excited when we see a no-look pass in basketball, or when a midfielder lets the ball run onto the next attacker. But those players can call for the ball and their teammate is going to hear them. That is not the case here. These women have to know where each other are and act on instinct with regards to the collective whole. They move as one, and in silence.
Even though some of the women on the team can hear with the help of cochlear implants, any type of hearing aid or implant is not allowed in their competition. Everyone must succumb to total silence to give everyone an equal playing field.
But to watch their game tape, you wouldn’t know it. They are a well-oiled machine. So good, in fact, that the US Women have brought home the gold in the past three Deaflympics. And it’s why they continue to be a force when it comes to the Deaf World Football Championships, winning in both 2012 and 2016. But these wins and trophies don’t just come from hard work, but also on the back of adversity.
Let me be the first one to call a spade a spade – they could use funding and support. In 2009, the team traveled to Taipei, Taiwan to compete in the Summer Deaflympic games but did not have enough funding for a sign language interpreter to make the trip…they took home the gold anyway. Then, in 2012, the team went to Turkey to compete in the Deaf World Football Championships. This time, one of their main sponsors pulled out the week before they were set to compete and because of this they had no jerseys. This forced them to have to raise $10,000 in the span of 24 hours in order to wear the uniform that represented their country. They did. Then they brought home the gold.
Not that many people noticed. But still, these ladies persisted, and they fought, and damn it, they did it with class. They won the 2013 Deaflympics and then continued on to win the 2016 Deaf World Football Championships. But who congratulated them? Who stood up and took notice? Was it you? Because I’ll be honest, it wasn’t me, as much as I wish it were.
These women don’t just represent the United States of America, they represent the whole speech and hearing impaired community. They do things that would make any hearing athlete completely jealous and have formed a bond that goes deeper than just the locker room. These women represent something that matters, and often times that is lost in the sports world.
Sure, when a great athlete surpasses some long-standing record we stand up and cheer. We take notice. But take a team that ranges in age from mid-teens to early-thirties, that doesn’t have the luxury of playing as regularly and has to find alternative ways to fund their training camps, coaches, and travel? We’ll let them pass on by without even as much as a glance.
Luckily, some are beginning to take notice, though their publicity is still slow coming. The USDWNT just recently held their Summer Training Camp in Seattle and created a lot of positive media attention. They practice with the Seattle Reign to hone their skills even more, they celebrated Pride at the Seattle Storm’s WNBA game, and they got out there and did meet-and-greets with fans – signed autographs and showed who they were to this nation who has seemed to have always forgotten them.
But the coolest thing they did, by far, was play a match against the Seattle Sounders, a women’s soccer development team, where every fully hearing individual played with earplugs. The videos they posted were awesome and showed just how difficult it is to play without sound. And just by doing this, these women were able to not just show their strength, but brought awareness to a whole community.
Every time the USDWNT takes the field they don’t just do it for themselves. Heck, they have other jobs that actually pay them…and some of them are still even in high school. But they put on the uniform and they are elevated to a purpose that is higher than most athletes could even fathom. They are a proud team, and they have every right to be. They love the game, and they love who they are and what they represent.
So the question is, can we love them too?
It doesn’t matter if you have a disability or know someone that does. It doesn’t matter if you are connected to the speech and hearing impaired community, or if you are even a sports fan. The point of the matter is that these women play for America. They play for a community that gets shafted a lot of the time. They play for the love of the game and they play for a cause. And aren’t those reason’s enough to give them some support?
I thought it was. I thought it was more than enough reason. But if you are still on the fence then watch some of their game tape, or their player interviews. Go to their website and see what they are about. They are a team that could use your help, and your love, and your support.
Follow them on twitter – @USDeaf_WNT. Donate to their gofundme page. Or, you can be cool like me and buy a t-shirt from their etsy shop (I won’t lie, I am super pumped to rock it once it gets delivered). The point is to do something – to show them some love. You don’t necessarily even have to pay any money, just give them a shout-out on social media. Let them know that you see what they are doing, and you are appreciating the work they are putting in, and you are supporting them.
And you should support them. Not because they play with a disability, but because they are the best, and they play for you and for me, and for every girl who has ever been told she was different or that she couldn’t. Support them because even when you didn’t, they still wore that American Crest over their hearts and played for you…and won for you. Over and over again.