By: Scarlett Shelley
On March 11th, Jennifer White joined Oyster Bay High School’s American Sign Language classes over Zoom. Jennifer White is the first ever female football coach at Gallaudet University. Gallaudet University is a private federally chartered research university in Washington, D.C. dedicated to the education of the deaf and hard of hearing. According to White, it is almost always silent on campus, and everyone knows sign language.
White has overcome many challenges throughout her life. She attended Cleveland State University and originally wanted to work in radio broadcasting, but ended up falling in love with television production. After finding her passion, she decided she wanted to shoot football games; White said she loves carrying all the equipment, and shooting football was just an added bonus. Unfortunately, White had to stop filming because she was assaulted, which affected her job. Following the attack, White felt inspired to take lessons in sign language, which led her to Gallaudet.
White saw that Gallaudet was looking for an assistant football coach, and she jumped at the chance to do it. “I just love the game,” White said. White originally played semi-pro football for four years, so she had some previous experience. She knew it would be a challenge being in a male dominated sport as a woman, but she didn’t care. When she started working at Gallaudet, she continued to take ASL classes, so she could communicate with the student athletes on the field.
White went on to explain the difficulties that the Gallaudet Football team faces because most of the players are deaf or hard of hearing. At some games, players on the opposing teams will shout mean comments at the Gallaudet players because they think that they can’t hear. People have a misconception that a player is deaf because they have that team jersey on, White explained. Some people on the football team aren’t deaf or hard of hearing, forcing them to endure mistreatment from the opposing teams.
White also described the advantages of being perceived as a school made up of an entirely deaf student population. White explained that sometimes Gallaudet will change their plays without the other team knowing by using sign language. They have a total of 129 offensive plays, and 92 defensive plays that all players must know. White noted that going through tapes of old games and memorizing the plays is her least favorite aspect about her job.
Being a female coach in football has created challenges for White, but she perseveres through them. White indicated that her team just sees her as a man because she is so tough. Although her team sees her in a positive light, some others don’t. She once heard someone on another team say, “I'm a trainer, or a mom,” unable to believe she could be one of the team’s assistant coaches. White tries to ignore those comments and keep doing what she loves.
Later on in the Zoom call, White said that the football team is “like a close knit Italian family.” Everyone is always supporting one another and is always there for each other. “You’re family as soon as you get in,” White explained.
Oyster Bay High School would like to thank Jennifer White for sharing her story and her time with the ASL students. It was a truly inspiring opportunity to hear her speak.