Deaf musicians take part in Super Bowl halftime for the first time

The Super Bowl will feature a spectacular halftime show, as usual, with some of hip-hop’s biggest names entertaining the masses while the championship-contending teams take a break.

And for the first time, two of the performers are deaf.

Dr. Dre added deaf stars Warren “Wawa” Snipe and Sean Forbes to Sunday’s lineup which also includes Eminem, Snoop Dogg, Mary J. Blige and Kendrick Lamar.

Wawa and Forbes will use their hands, bodies and facial expressions to deliver unique renditions of American Sign Language songs as the superstars sing on stage in an inclusive and accessible show.

“The opportunity to be here at the Super Bowl is just unreal,” Forbes said from Los Angeles in an interview with The Associated Press this week. “I never dreamed, imagined, of being here one day in a million years. As a performer, that’s about as high as it gets. It’s the biggest stage in the world.

“Being here representing the deaf community and really putting ASL on the map.”

Deaf culture and ASL are becoming more common, showing that hard of hearing men and women can let their talent shine through if given the opportunity. Earlier this week, two films with deaf actors were nominated for Oscars.

“CODA,” a drama that follows the child of deaf adults, is nominated for best picture and best adapted screenplay. Troy Kotsur has become the second deaf actor nominated for an Oscar, joining co-star Marlee Matlin, who won Best Actress for her performance in the 1987 film “Children of a Lesser God.”

“Audible,” a short documentary focusing on a Maryland School for the Deaf football team, was also nominated.

“The 21st century, we’re starting to be seen,” Snipe told the AP through an interpreter. “Many doors are opening in our community. Many people see what our talented deaf people can do as actors, musicians, producers, directors, writers, artists in general.

“We’re here and we’re ready. We’ve been here and we’ve been knocking on this door for a long, long time, trying to get that access.

Snipe makes a return commitment to the annual NFL showcase. He signed the national anthem and “America the Beautiful” ahead of last year’s game alongside Jazmine Sullivan and Eric Church.

“It’s different and it’s historic,” said Snipe, 51, from Virginia. “This has never happened before, where deaf people actually sign on. The time has come. I hope this is an open door and it continues to be open for the halftime show at from now on. We need this.

Matlin also appeared in three Super Bowl pregame performances. The National Association of the Deaf began working with the NFL in 2010 to connect the league with deaf artists to perform the anthem in ASL.

“NAD’s mission is to advance equal access and equality for Deaf people, and there’s no better way to increase the visibility of ASL as an art form and showcase the talents of deaf artists than the Super Bowl,” NAD CEO Howard A. Rosenblum told the AP Thursday night.

Matlin also appeared in three Super Bowl pre-game performances, which included deaf people signing the anthem for two decades through relationships established by the National Association of the Deaf since 2010.

Actress Sandra Mae Frank will perform the national anthem and “America the Beautiful” in ASL as country star Mickey Guyton and R&B hitmaker Jhené Aiko sing before the Los Angeles Rams take on the Cincinnati Bengals.

Members of the California School for the Deaf football team, as honorary captains, will be in midfield for the draw.

“It’s about continuing to be more inclusive and providing more opportunities for everyone,” NFL spokeswoman Jordyn White said. “It’s about celebrating people for their differences and coming together for the things we love. Inclusion is a priority for the league, and we hope fans can see that, especially at half time and before the game.

Although captioning has been available for decades, on-screen text in English does not really provide access to the deaf community who use ASL as their first language.

“The captions are often delayed, they’re often not on time, and they’re missing a lot of words,” said Forbes, 40, from Michigan. “Seeing this performance in ASL is not just an interpretation. It is a performance in its own right.

The NBC broadcast is set to show previews of the Snipe and Forbes, whose full performance will be available on and the NBC Sports app.

“It’s time,” Forbes said. “The deaf community has worked so hard. ASL is such a beautiful and rich language. I’ve been in this business for 16 years, and to see how we’ve come to this is just amazing.


Lage, whose parents and nephews are deaf, is a Michigan-based sportswriter.


Follow Larry Lage at


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