The New Derrick Coleman Duracell Ad Gets It Right
January 17th, 2014 by Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg

Every time that a new ad featuring a person with a disability comes out, I get ready to cringe. So when I learned that Duracell had released a video ad featuring Derrick Coleman, a fullback for the Seattle Seahawks and the first deaf offensive player in the NFL, I had to get myself in a good mood before I watched it. And certainly, if you look at how others are talking about the video, you’d be apprehensive, too. Hollywood Life ran the video under the headline Derrick Coleman: Watch The Deaf NFL Star’s Inspiring Commercial, and HuffPo crowed Deaf Seahawks Fullback Derrick Coleman Will Inspire You With This Commercial. The comments under the HuffPo article are painfully predictable, with people getting all inspired and teary.

So before I watched the video, I was bracing for inspiration porn. But that isn’t what I found. In fact, I thought that the commercial did an excellent job of showing that among the worst of the barriers that disabled people face are the ways in which we’re ignored, dismissed, and discounted. And, appropriately enough, it’s captioned. Take a look and see what you think:

From the beginning, the ad talks about the ways in which Coleman has been mistreated in his life. The ad doesn’t imply that being deaf is an impediment to being an athlete; in fact, it keeps the focus squarely on the people who discouraged Coleman on the basis of his deafness. “They told me it couldn’t be done. That I was a lost cause. I was picked on. And picked last.”

In fact, rather than saying, “I couldn’t hear” as the reason for his being ignored, the voiceover shifts the responsibility to the people who didn’t know how to communicate with him: “Coaches didn’t know how to talk to me.” To my mind, this is an absolutely stunning line. Whether anyone who put the ad together knows it or not, it comes straight out of the social model of disability. I was so amazed to see that line there that I played the ad several times, just to hear it.

And then, there is the double entendre of using “listen” to mean both “hear” and “take to heart”: “They gave up on me. Told me I should just quit. They didn’t call my name. Told me it was over. But I’ve been deaf since I was three, so I didn’t listen.”

There is great wordplay going on here. Not only does the double entendre work well, but being deaf metaphorically becomes an asset rather than a deficit. It’s his deafness that keeps him from listening to the voices of discouragement and believing in himself. In other words, in the logic of the video, he’s not in the NFL despite his deafness, but because of it. That twist on the mainstream narrative just floors me. And now that Coleman has been able to ignore the dismissals and the discouragement, he can hear the applause, the support, and the people on his side: “And now I’m here, with the loudest fans in the NFL cheering me on. And I can hear them all.” A deaf man saying that he can hear the crowd is a great way to confront the idea that being deaf is always about not hearing at all, and it makes Coleman a person with agency, not a passive victim of fate. He decides when he listens and when he doesn’t. No one else makes that decision for him.

The video ends with a tagline that could easily be read as inspiration porn: “Trust the power within.” Obviously, not all disabled people who believe in themselves experience inclusion, find employment, or get people to cheer for them. But I’m not reading the commercial as an “overcoming disability” story as much as a “don’t let the bastards grind you down” story. It’s not his disability that Coleman has overcome. It’s the microaggressions, the low expectations, and the prejudices of others that he’s pushed out of his head. To me, it’s not what he’s accomplished that is the main thing, but the fact that he stopped listening to the voices of dismissal and pursued something he loves to do.

Whether or not deflecting societal prejudice leads to any sort of tangible reward, simply deflecting it is crucial – and very difficult. No one should despair because of the attitudes of other people, and yet, so many of us do at one time or another. I like the idea of trusting the power within – not because it will help us to overcome all of the massive structural injustices we face, but because it engenders self-respect and self-love.

© 2014 by Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg

6 Responses  
  • Amy writes:
    July 17th, 20249:38 amat

    I’m in the Seattle area, and every single person I know has been sharing this ad constantly. I’ve avoided watching it until now because I’m so tired of inspiration porn. Thanks for this analysis – I finally watched and enjoyed it. Go Seahawks!

  • David Nicolow writes:
    July 17th, 20249:38 amat

    Where there is a will there is a way to accomplish what one desires to do.

  • Emily @ Words I Wheel By writes:
    July 17th, 20249:41 amat

    I agree this commercial was incredibly well done. I actually took “Trust the Power Within” to hold a double meaning as well: both trust the power within yourself, and trust the power provided by Duracell batteries within your hearing-aid/battery-powered item. It didn’t read as inspiration porn-y to me.

  • Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt writes:
    July 17th, 20249:42 amat

    I’m writing the novel Pride’s Children BECAUSE I’m disabled. This particular novel would not exist otherwise. It’s a constant battle to keep it relevant, interesting, NOT centered on the disability, and far away from inspiration porn – all good aims.

    Disability is a major concern for one of the characters, but it ultimately doesn’t stop her from anything – once she learns it is okay to want. And want what any woman would want, not just some dumbed-down version of life.

    I believe people who are … should be writing it like it is for the rest of the world. Just because I have a particular disability does not make me educated about other ones.

    Thanks for pointing out the commercial – I don’t watch football OR commercials.


  • David writes:
    July 17th, 20249:42 amat

    HOPE YOU viewed – the recent Movie (documentary) “Cinemability”
    It is an interesting and educational movie….

    Your recent comments on the COMMERCIALS.

    This was a big deal back 30 years ago…..

    History of disability rights

    George Murray becomes the first wheelchair athlete to be featured on the Wheaties cereal box.,3579819

  • clip downloader writes:
    July 18th, 202411:27 pmat

    Hi i think that i saw you visited my web site thus i came to Return the favore Im attempting to find things to enhance my siteI suppose its ok to use a few of your ideas

Leave a Reply

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>
»  Substance:WordPress   »  Style:Ahren Ahimsa