Faces Behind the Screen: Marvin Pearson

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Marvin Pearson
Photo courtesy of Marvin Pearson’s Twitter @MarvinPearson28

Part 1

What were your childhood interests and hobbies?

As a child, I was very athletic. I was very gifted when I was playing sports, even before I lost my vision. I loved playing football. The first football team I ever played on was the Conshohocken Bears. My uncle got me into playing sports. That was pretty much all I did. I was more of an outdoors person. I never really sat in the house and played video games. I would hang out with my friends, just playing basketball, playing football and just getting dirty on the ground.

What are your passions today? How did you find your passion? And what place does it hold in your life?

Of course, I love playing sports, but I also love to read. I’ve loved reading ever since I started going blind. I actually wasn’t much of a reader until I lost my vision. When I started losing my vision, I was introduced to the whole blind community, which included braille and other accessible reading styles. Since then, books have been my passion. I love everything from Harry Potter to reading religious books.

I learned braille in the second grade as soon as I started losing my vision. If braille comes across my path, I’ll read braille. If audio comes across my path, I’ll listen to the audio. I really don’t have a preferred way to read it. It’s just whatever I can get my hands.

When did your interest in football begin? Were your family, friends, coaches, and teammates all supportive of this decision?

My interest in football began when I was young. It was the summer of the first grade when my uncle woke me up and asked, “do you want to play football?” I said yes, thinking we were about to go outside in his yard and just throw the ball around.

He took me to a football camp out in Conshohocken, Pennsylvania. There was a whole team there. It was everybody from 65 pounds and up. They even had a little flag football team. They had adults out there playing football. I put the pads on, and that was my first time ever experiencing playing football. That was before I lost my vision because I was only about six or seven years old.

Once I hit middle school, that was the first time I played football being blind. Everyone was supportive, but they didn’t know how accessible football would be for me and they were concerned about my safety. At the time I was 4 foot 5 and 100 pounds. Unfortunately, they put a red cap on me and I became a non-contact player.

If you go on YouTube, along with all my other videos, you’ll find that one of the very first videos that has about 1,000 views is by TJ Hill. You can see everything straight from the beginning, and how I first got into playing football despite the fact that I can’t see.

During high school, I was always into sports like goalball, track, wrestling, and swimming. Once I switched back to public school in the 12th grade, I joined the football team. This time around, however, it was all full contact. And that’s what I love: I love the feeling of being hit. I love the feeling of running a reverse when I score touchdowns. Eventually, everybody on my team, all of my coaches, all of my fans, all my supporters, family, everybody, they were so supportive of it. Everything just worked out great.

How are you able to play football without seeing anything?

So for me, it’s probably a little bit easier given the fact that I was able to see at one point in time. I know the different formations and the different play calls. But even for somebody who can’t see, it wouldn’t be as difficult as basketball might be. It wouldn’t be as difficult as baseball might be. Football is all about angles. It’s all about geometry, knowing which direction to run.

It’s all about making sure you get experience. You have to practice it thousands and thousands of times throughout the course of the football season and stay consistent with play calls.  

My coaches to put me in the best position to succeed. So, for me, it was developing trust with my receivers, developing trust with my running backs, and developing trust with my offensive linemen so that they will protect me and make sure that I don’t take big hits. Most importantly, I have to trust in myself – to brace myself and know that that big hits are going to come and not being scared to go out there.

When you were playing different towns in your state, did most of your opponents know they were playing with a player that is blind? Or did they have no idea?

I went to Pottstown High School, and we were playing against Pottsville High School. The coach there knew that I was blind because the article had just come out about number 28, which was me.

That kind of launched me into everybody’s awareness and people started to know who I was. Once my coaches seen how fast I was and seen how athletic and how strong I was, they started playing me more often.

One time, we played against a school called Upper Marion. After I scored a two-point conversion, I said to the opposing coach, “hey, did you even realize that I couldn’t see?” He said no. It didn’t surprise me that they didn’t know that I couldn’t see because they definitely didn’t take it easy on me. Throughout the season, I got pretty banged up. I took some hard hits. And yeah, so it was definitely an experience.

What’s one of your proudest moments?

One of my proudest moments is just being a leader in my community and being that role model that young kids can look up to. It’s also being a father figure for my son, a great boyfriend, a great son, and a great brother to my family. I want to motivate people with disabilities so they know that they can do whatever they set their mind to. They can overcome any obstacle. That’s what keeps me motivated to keep doing better and provide light for anybody who feels that they’re in the dark.

Marvin smiles while standing at a bar with Saints gear and a walking cane

Photo courtesy of Marvin Pearson’s Twitter @MarvinPearson28

Part 2

I am blind and deaf. When people ask me, I’m not ashamed of it because it has made me who I am today. Without my cochlear implants, my hearing would be gone. It’s a miracle that I’m able to hear at all and my speech is as good as it is. I got my implants as soon as I started losing my hearing since regular hearing aids wouldn’t work for me. With my implants, I sometimes forget that I’m deaf.

Losing my vision and hearing at a young age was challenging, especially since I was eight years old. I remember being in class and seeing blurry words. Nobody believed me at first because I was one of those kids that would play around a lot – your typical class clown. I was like the boy who cried wolf.

I had to start reading larger print and learning braille. I’m thankful because I had the best low-vision teachers in the world. She taught me everything I needed to know about what it’s going to be like at school and in the workplace. From a young age, she mentally and emotionally supported me through my vision loss. Although it was frustrating, I understood that there was nothing I could do about it. Complaining, crying, or throwing temper tantrums about the fact that I couldn’t see anymore wasn’t going to get my vision or my hearing back.

I had a great supporting cast around me. My family and friends were amazing and understood the trials and tribulations I was going through. Everybody lent out a helping hand. Even though I lost the battle of losing my vision and hearing, I won the war as far as being able to cope with it. I tell people all the time.

My mom would always encourage me and tell me to go out there and show everybody it’s not just about the fact that I can’t see, but that I can’t see and I’m accomplishing so much at a young age. I wouldn’t be the person, leader, role model, and advocate I am today without my experiences.

A common mistake sighted people make when interacting with blind people is assuming blind people can’t live an everyday, normal life. I am just as capable as you are. Even my dad would tell me that I couldn’t cook in the house. Until one day, he actually gave me the chance to prove to him that I’m actually a better chef than he is!

It’s important for me to share my story to provide light for somebody – whether your disabled or not. I had the opportunity to be on The Ellen Show, Fox News, ESPN, and USA Today. The main thing I tell people is that I don’t want to be remembered as a deaf-blind football player. I want to be remembered as a football player that excelled and just happens to be blind and deaf.

I’ve been discriminated against because of my disability. One day I went to my first job interview and I got all dressed up in my business attire. The interviewer told me that he had to contact Human Resources to see if they can interview me. I never heard back from him. It was discouraging, but I used it as motivation to do better. I created an organization called the Greater Philadelphia Association of Blind Athletes. We’ve teamed up with big-time organizations in the area to create a camp, Camp Champion, to give athletes a platform to feel like champions.  

I use my platform to help spread my story worldwide. I’ve met celebrities and major athletes because of my experiences. Who knows where my life would be if I didn’t lose my vision and hearing? A lot of the friends I had growing up went down the wrong path. I was able to use my experiences to become a better person and I’m proud of that. 

Video Courtesty of The Ellen Show

Part 3

Technology helps me tremendously. My phone is my life. Without my phone, I would be nowhere. Accessibility helps everyone, even people who aren’t disabled.

Audio description, for example, is amazing. I’m able to watch my favorite movies and comedies. Audio description paired with comedy? It’s hysterical! When the descriptions detail what’s happening in the video, it helps me get a better image in my head of what’s actually happening on stage. A lot of the time, stand-up comedy is very visual. It’s hard for me to laugh at the comedian’s jokes until it’s described and I can get a better image in my head.

My message to web developers and technology creators is simply, thank you. Thank you for coming out with different accessibility devices and apps. Thank you for taking the time to make websites accessible and taking strides to make us [people with disabilities] feel equally included. It’s the little things like being able to laugh about something on social media. We need to keep moving forward with technology and come out with new and improved things.

My experiences have lead me to great things in life. I had the opportunity to go on The Ellen Show. On and off set, Ellen is one of the most inspirational people I’ve ever met in my life. I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to express myself on her platform.

I also was fortunate enough to meet football player Drew Brees and the rest of the Saints organization. Drew is one of the most humble people I’ve met. I had a conversation with him like he’s a normal guy and we were talking in the locker room. All of the other players were great too. They knew they were role models, but they didn’t put themselves on a pedestal and make you feel like you were below them. They were just regular people.

Throughout my life experiences and the people I’ve met along my journey, I’ve learned that there’s always a bright side to anything. The glass is always half-full, not half-empty.

Faces Behind the Screen would like to thank Marvin Pearson for participating in our storytelling project. If you’re interested in sharing your story with us, fill out our nomination form.

Pictures of four people who were interviewed for the Faces Behind the Screen project

Faces Behind the Screen is a storytelling project focusing on members of the Deaf and hard of hearing community.

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