:: Making the world listen – USATODAY.com ::

Making the world listen – USATODAY.com

By Larry Weisman, USA TODAY

Jamaal Anderson.jpgJamaal Anderson‘s relatives can be forgiven for talking with their hands full. When the family gathers for dinner, conversation flies in two ways — verbally and in American Sign Language. A little barbecue sauce flavors the meal, lingers on the fingers and adds zest to the joking and debating.

Anderson, 21, is one of the top-rated defensive ends in the NFL draft, which commences Saturday in New York. His family and friends will gather at the Peabody Hotel in Little Rock, to celebrate the dawn of his pro career.

He’ll enjoy the cheers from the well-wishers while relishing the deaf version of applause — hands in the air, shaking at the wrists — when his name is announced. His father, deaf since he was 6 from medication given to treat pneumonia, will be there to congratulate his son.

The Andersons, tight and inclusive as a family, work their own bilingual magic to stay connected.

“I’ve had dreams where I’ve been signing,” Anderson says. “I’ve been doing it since as far back as I can remember. It’s just natural now.”

He uses his hands pretty well in some of his other dreams, too. After a Southeastern Conference-high 13.5 sacks for the University of Arkansas as a junior, he decided to turn pro and should be among the first defensive linemen selected.

Not that coming out early was an easy choice or one that initially pleased his father, Glenn, who directs the Rehabilitation Research and Training Center for Persons who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing at the University of Arkansas. His disability did not keep him from earning his doctorate at New York University in 1982, achieving his goals or becoming a husband and father of two.

“He’s a great man,” says Anderson, a sociology major. “I’ve always been proud of him.”

His father has long been a leader in the deaf community and was considered for the presidency of his alma mater, Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., renowned as the academic and cultural center of the deaf world. He did not take kindly to his son leaving academia early.

“That was one of the hardest decisions we made,” says Anderson’s mother, Karen, who works for Arkansas’ office of rehabilitation services for the deaf and hearing impaired. “It was back and forth for about two months. Glenn said no. He was adamant about that. But we were talking to a lot of people, not just agents but people inside the NFL that we knew, and the feedback that we got was that Jamaal was projected to go in the top of the first round. continued

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