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Can Gallaudet Football Change Identity Politics?

A 99-acre leafy island in Washington, D.C.’s revitalizing Northeast quadrant, Gallaudet University is currently the world’s only university for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Initially founded in 1857 as a school for deaf and blind children, the school had its collegiate charter signed by Abraham Lincoln in 1864.

And though Gallaudet University recently marked its 150th year, its future is uncertain. As the number of deaf high schools in America dwindles and mainstream education increases, Gallaudet is struggling to maintain its enrollment. How does what one friend calls the “Deaf Hollywood, Capitol Hill, and Wall Street” retain its deaf cultural identity while also broadening its tent for the sake of its own survival? What does it mean to be deaf? One answer can be found on the football field, where the mixture of the culturally hearing, mainstreamed athletes and culturally deaf, deaf-school athletes creates a mosaic that would not have existed 10 years ago but that is perhaps the model for the university’s—and the community’s—composition 10 years from now.