Super Bowl 2023 Deaf Performers Make History By Signing In ASL And North American Indian Sign Language: ‘Truly Lifts Every Voice’

Troy Kotsur, Justina Miles and Colin Denny perform American Sign Language and Plains Indian Sign Language at the Super Bowl LVII pre-game show at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona on Sunday.

Troy Kotsur, Justina Miles and Colin Denny perform American Sign Language and Plains Indian Sign Language at the Super Bowl LVII pre-game show at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona on Sunday. (Photo: NFL)

Country superstar Chris Stapleton, 12-time Grammy winner Babyface and Emmy-winning actress and singer Sheryl Lee Ralph performed at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Ariz., on Sunday before the Super Bowl LVII showdown between the Philadelphia Eagles and Kansas City Chiefs. But three more artists – Oscar winners TAIL actor Troy Kotsur, deaf Navajo scholar Colin Denny, and deaf TikTok sensation Justina Miles — nearly stole the (pre)show with landmark appearances that set a new standard for inclusivity in the big game.

On YouTube TV’s “Pre-Kick” show, Babyface’s adorable live and refreshingly non-Auto-Tuned rendition of “America the Beautiful,” played on a starry acoustic guitar “in celebration of our country,” was signed by Denny in both American Sign Language (ASL) and Plains Indian Sign Language (PISL), one of the best-documented regional variations of North American Indian Sign Language and a “lingua franca” used by both the deaf and hard of hearing to communicate between tribes. In a statement to the University of Arizona, Denny, a research assistant in that school’s College of Education, explained, “Many people are unaware of [North American Indian Sign Language] and that it has always been here, even if we don’t see it. It’s something I think needs national recognition and revitalization for the community.”

While Denny was barely shown in camera cutaways during Babyface’s televised performance, the incorporation of North American Indian Sign Language into this year’s Super Bowl pre-game festivities was still seen by many as a positive response. and corrective to the long and increasingly under fire of the NFL , history of the appropriation of Native American culture and iconography. Meanwhile, even on Super Bowl Sunday, the Arizona to Rally Against Native Mascots organization continued to protest outside State Farm Stadium against the Chiefs’ name, logo, “tomahawk chop” hand gesture, and pinto horse of the Chiefs. mascot, Warpaint.

“I just want to be able to inspire and empower those who are alone to look around and see that there are other people out there who are just like them and not feel so isolated or alone,” Denny told the University of Arizona ahead of the game on Sunday. “I want them to see me on that stage and see me representing them.”

Also during the pre-game show, Kotsur, who won the 2022 Best Supporting Actor Oscar (becoming the first deaf man and second deaf person ever to receive an Oscar for acting), signed into ASL for Stapleton’s fiery, soulful take on the national anthem. Deaf actress Marlee Matlin, who won an Oscar for Her Story 1986 Children of a lesser God performance, he tweeted before the Super Bowl urging his fans to tune in.

20-year-old Miles, whose entry on TikTok’s #crushonyouchallenge went viral in 2020 after being reposted by Lil’ Kim, accompanied Ralph’s performance of “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” At an NFL press conference on Thursday, Miles called the latter song, known as the black national anthem, “inspiring, uplifting, and representative of resilience,” and said its inclusion at Super Bowl LVII was “important.” not only for me to share this experience with the whole world, but to really bring that power to millions and millions of deaf black people across the country who have never seen it before.I feel like it’s really lifting every voice, even my voice .

Miles is also expected to sign with the ASL for Rihanna’s highly anticipated halftime performance, making her the first deaf female performer to headline a Super Bowl halftime show. (Last year marked the first time ASL artists were featured on the halftime show, as deaf musicians Warren “Wawa” Snipe and Sean Forbes appeared alongside Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Eminem, Mary J. Blige, Kendrick Lamar, 50 Cent and Anderson .Paak.) In his NFL press conference interview, Miles said, “I appreciate the opportunity to make it possible for all deaf people to enjoy these songs and not let them miss the entire Super Bowl experience.”

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