"Beats Losing" (Washington City Paper, Dec 23-29, 05) is a fascinating look at Gallaudet's football program and how it was turned around this year. Of interest in the story:
Gallaudet, for example, gets credit as the birthplace of the football huddle. Legend holds that in the early 1890s, a Bison offensive player named Paul Hubbard grew weary of his team’s defensive players’ stealing his sign language while calling plays during practice. So Hubbard began asking his teammates to bunch up together while receiving instructions.
[U]ntil recently for the Bison, offensive plays had long been triggered by the beating of a drum on the sideline at the line of scrimmage; it was pounded in measured beats by a Gallaudet assistant, who swung hard enough for players to feel the drum’s vibrations. The center would snap the ball to the quarterback after the number of drumbeats prescribed by the quarterback in the huddle.
[QB Jason] Coleman, a senior, ... told the coach he saw no need for huddling up anymore. He pointed out that Gallaudet doesn’t have any deaf teams on its schedule, so defenders wouldn’t be able to understand what instructions Coleman was giving his teammates any better than Hottle could on his first day on the job. And for a snap count, Hottle let Coleman and the center work out a silent count system, which relies on the sense of touch and a good ol’ hand-to-buttocks tap. Gallaudet offensive linemen, as defensive linemen have always done, just move with the snap.
“It doesn’t matter what I’m signing in front of the defense,” says Coleman via instant messaging. “They don’t know what I’m saying, unless they’re deaf. It’s an advantage.”
(Coleman confesses that he cracked up the team all season with imitations of the horrible signing technique Hottle initially showed. “He picked it up fast, though,” the quarterback adds.)
Gallaudet is pretty interesting to me because it's a vivid illustration of the deaf world's complexities. While not being able to hear is considered a handicap in a world that relies on a lot of audio communication and cues, there's also a thriving Deaf culture that considers things like cochlear implants and non-signing to be assaults on who they are. Read Leah Hager Cohen's Train Go Sorry for one look at this; to get a taste, just work through the Amazon reviews. During the same year Train Go Sorry came out, Karawynn Long wrote "Of Silence and Slow Time," a short story examining the effects of technology on Deaf Culture. And in 01, PBS aired Sound and Fury, which examined the debate over cochlear implants.
I freely admit I do not know very much about the history or nuances of Deaf culture beyond what I just linked to. It just grabs my imagination because of the element of communication: we don't know whether language structure shapes thinking or vice-versa (see Structuralism and Post-Structuralism for Beginners for a nice layman's overview of the debate, then read Neil Stephenson's Snow Crash to see Chomsky theory in action), and there's this whole culture that's taken language and communication, and gone off in a whole different direction with it by necessity. How can anyone not be interested in learning what new frontiers in human expression are opened up this way?