DK Metcalf Sign Language TD Celebrates a ‘Hot Topic’ in the Deaf Community: ‘It’s Got the Swag with It’

It’s not just that DK Metcalf is learning American Sign Language and using it on a national stage: it’s that, even as a beginner, he’s doing it with a level of finesse that shows he’s got it right.

“It has the swag with it. And sometimes that’s half the battle with signing,” said Sean Forbes, one of the deaf rappers who barriers broken down at the Super Bowl halftime show two years ago with Eminem, Snoop Dogg and other hip-hop stars. “You have to have the nuances, the vibrations, the way your hands move and flow have to be there. … He had the right rhythm, whereas most beginning singers would have been a little more choppy.”

Metcalf, the Seattle Seahawks wide receiver, introduced a twist to the typical NFL touchdown celebration this season, making a catch in the end zone in recent games against the Los Angeles Rams and Dallas Cowboys. He joked about the practice it could help him avoid the end for small talk, but there’s much more. In the same way the former All-Pro studies opposing defenses, Metcalf meets with a coach on Tuesdays to hone his passing skills.

The time it is taking is considerable. This doesn’t appear to be the work of someone simply Googling how to pronounce specific phrases — a familiar situation for any beginning foreign language learner — said Dr. Kim Kurz, a professor at RIT’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf.

Forbes just wanted to know more about the why and how of it all, speculating that Metcalf is working with someone to refine his style.

“We all have these questions, but at the same time, we all say, ‘Fuck, yes!’”

Well, here are the answers.

Metcalf, whose signature first came to light last month, took a summer ASL course in college and resumed learning the language earlier this season. He meets via video call once a week with Darrell Utley, a Tennessee-based instructor with whom Metcalf is connected through his agency.

Utley said he didn’t know Metcalf was an NFL player when they first started classes. She said in an email that the former Pro Bowler is “a curious and open-minded student” who is “dedicated and committed to learning sign language.”

Metcalf, 25, said he started learning ASL as a way to “exercise his mind” and get it away from football (he previously took acting lessons for the same reason and is also learning the guitar). The potential for trash talking was an afterthought.

But to the deaf community, it’s more than just a hobby of a popular athlete. It’s cause for celebration for some and at least a conversation starter for others.

Kurz, who is deaf, said through an interpreter that Metcalf’s use of sign language has become a “hot topic.”

“Deaf people are honestly pretty tired of others simply wanting to learn sign language for the sole purpose of learning foul language or swearing signs,” Kurz explained, noting that Metcalf hasn’t veered into that territory — until now. “We would much prefer if people actually showed interest in learning ASL because they would like to communicate with deaf people or want to learn about deaf culture and the deaf community.”

Metcalf said he’s enjoying “shedding light on the ASL community, the deaf community, where more and more people are starting to learn ASL and are starting to pay attention to, ‘What is he going to sign next, or what is he going to sign?’ “

Some have suggested that referees, coaches and other players should simply learn to sign, too, Kurz said. It’s a natural fit, as football already has roots in sign language, including the creation of the huddle.

Dr. Joseph Hill, an RIT associate professor who studies Black Sign Language, also said that some deaf people are wary “any time someone learns a language from a linguistic minority for a selfish reason.” This is due to the long history of hearing people using ASL “for their own gain” and not for the benefit of the deaf community, Hill wrote in an email.

For this reason, Utley also said it’s important for people interested in learning ASL to get exposure through deaf teachers “for authenticity” and to support deaf businesses.

Forbes believes Metcalf’s ASL zingers are “just brilliant” and not “appropriate at all,” though he wondered whether a deaf athlete without Metcalf’s stature would feel entitled to making similar comments. He added: “What he’s doing is really putting the spotlight on our language – and being a bit clever in doing so.”


DK Metcalf’s first sign language celebration came after a touchdown against the Rams on November 19. (Photo: Brandon Sloter/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

When Metcalf first caught on to using ASL, it flew a bit under the radar. “44, my son”, signed Rams cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon after beating him for a touchdown on Nov. 19.

But the second time, when he signed “standing on business” against the Cowboys last week, he was successful.

“The community was excited about it (for the second time), everyone was excited to see what else he does and what other football players do,” Forbes said. “This further proves to me and the community at large that sign language is just amazing.

“To be able to see it on a mainstream platform, in a professional sports league, says a lot.”

Metcalf got the idea of ​​signing “standing on business” from teammate Boye Mafe, a linebacker who also knows ASL. Mafe signs “I love you” to the sky as part of his pre-game ritual to honor his mother, who died in 2018.

The phrase Metcalf used is an amalgam of cultures, Hill noted: a recently popularized part of African American vernacular English, which much like ASL has a unique structure, syntax and grammar that differs from English.

That smooth delivery is simply “based on his personality,” Utley said, adding that the pair hadn’t specifically prepared for the touchdown celebration. Utley was “surprised” that Metcalf had brought out his new skills on the field when he saw it on the news.

“Everyone has their own style and personality that shines through when they use sign language,” the instructor added.

Forbes said it’s refreshing to see Metcalf “doing something interesting with (ASL) and making people’s heads turn” when most people spread it through more traditional means, such as teaching and interpreting. The ripple effect is already there moving on to other sports.

It is also just the latest in a series of initiatives undertaken by those involved in football regarding the inclusion of deaf people. While ASL performers during the Super Bowl national anthem have been standard for years as part of a partnership with the National Association of the Deaf and deaf civil rights attorney Alexis Kashar, Forbes’ appearance together to fellow deaf rapper Wawa scored the first ASL artists at halftime. Show. Last year, deaf singer Justina Miles penned Rihanna’s hits.

The league was also recently launched a line of merchandise with the ASL.

Both Forbes and Kurz characterized the NFL as being at the forefront of inclusion of the deaf community, but wondered whether we might one day see broadcast components like an ASL reporter to take things to the next level.

It would also be a benefit if Metcalf could use his platform to draw attention and educate people about the importance of learning sign language to communicate with deaf people, Kurz said.

It turns out Metcalf feels the same way.

“I think it’s just amazing to be able to challenge myself to learn something new and just bring light to a community that I didn’t know felt invisible or felt like it was forgotten,” Metcalf said.

What began as a pastime may have briefly morphed into a domain of gimmicks and trash-talking for a player who paid about $100,000 in fines for personal conduct on the field. But for Metcalf the matter remains serious.

“I’m trying to learn a new language, simply put.”

(Top photo: Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images and Steven Bisig/USA Today)