On January 28th, 2001 I sat in front of the TV eagerly awaiting the Super Bowl. As you know this event took place right here in Tampa and to have a member of our deaf community signing the National Anthem was even more exciting to me then the actual event itself. I have to admit I'm not much of a sport buff all I really wanted to see was Tom Cooney signing our Country's song.
Tom Cooney at the 2001 Super Bowl
Tom is well known and respected in the Tampa, Clearwater, St.Petersburg area within the deaf and interpreting community. I am honored that he allowed me to interview him and I am delighted to share his story with you.
Tom became deaf at the age of 9 months due to a mastoid that left him in a wheelchair until the age of eight and was the only deaf member of his family whom adopted him. He attended a residential school in Trenton, New Jersey for the deaf and hard of hearing where he learned American Sign Language.
He has been performing for 38 years and has always dreamed of signing at the Super Bowl. For years he had sent written requests to the NFL of his desire to do this after seeing Whitney Houston sing the National Anthem at the Super Bowl in 1991 in Tampa. Every year he was turned down until this year and he made super bowl history by being the first person to sign 2 songs.
He felt nervous before the show began but he knew he had a job to do... to sign the anthem for the millions of deaf and hard of hearing people across the nation who would be watching. I can imagine just how proud Tom felt signing the Anthem, a dream fulfilled. He stated that this was the pinnacle of his career. I asked Tom how he was treated and he told me that he was treated and respected as much as Ray Charles and the Back Street Boys were. He was given food, interviewed and gave out autographs to fans, a celebrity in his own right. The crowd reached out to touch him as he made his way out to the field, cheering him on and the football players waved "I love You" to him in ASL. He states "I would not trade places with any other deaf person on the face of the earth... and for that matter any hearing person as well".
Mr. Cooney lives in Palm Harbor, Florida since 1985 and has two sons, Tom Jr. who is in the US Navy and Ron who recently graduated from Auburn University