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Peck has not yet won the trust of all his teammates. "I think Ron had trouble accepting his deafness," says Gallaudet sports publicist Greg Seiter. "He thought he could get by with a little sign and speaking the rest of the time, but he found out pretty quickly that just won't work at Gallaudet. If you can't speak the language, you're always going to be an outsider here."
"You have to learn to face your deafness, the deaf world," says Silvestri. "Sometimes it's hard for people to adjust who've been in the hearing world. They push it away. Ron was a very slow learner at sign. His girlfriend [who is also deaf] talks a lot. They should speak more in sign."
Most of the players Gallaudet recruits from mainstream high schools have spent their football careers at noseguard, the ghetto to which the deaf invariably are banished by their hearing coaches. "They put me by the ball," says Scott Staubach, who played the position at only 5'7" and 160 pounds. "They thought I couldn't do anything because I couldn't hear."
When Staubach got to Gallaudet, he was converted to a defensive back. "He didn't play much in high school," Pelletier says, "but he wanted to prove himself. It took him two years to begin to believe he could do it, and then he exploded."
"The communication with the coaches was a lot easier here," Staubach says. "My high school coaches didn't want to sit down and talk with me. I think they really had no patience, but I had to accept it. What could I do?"
The deaf had long accepted their second-class status. But in 1988 students and faculty at Gallaudet staged an uprising against the university's board when it attempted to hire a new president who was hearing and knew no sign language. This was nothing new—Gallaudet had never had a deaf president—but the upheaval that followed would change the deaf world forever. Asserting themselves as never before, the demonstrators shut down the campus and insisted, in Jordan's words, "that deaf people can do anything that hearing people can, except hear."
After less than a week in the job, Dr. Elisabeth Ann Zinser resigned, followed in short order by the hearing chairman of the board of trustees. Jordan, a former dean of the college of Arts and Science and professor of psychology, who had been deaf since the age of 21 following a motorcycle accident—was installed as president.
It was a historic moment, one from which there could be no turning back. For centuries the "deaf and dumb" (a phrase that was meant to convey imbecility) had been confined to institutions and were considered incapable of working or receiving an education. The success of the deaf-mute institutions in teaching sign language to the deaf in the 1870s stirred a furious debate among so-called oralists who believed the deaf should be brought forcibly into the hearing world.
The leader of the oralist movement was Alexander Graham Bell, whose wife was deaf. Bell invented the telephone in 1875 in an attempt to help the deaf hear better. Ironically, it was an instrument of no use to the deaf, and as its importance to the rest of the world grew, the telephone became one of the most formidable barriers to a deaf person's obtaining a job.
At a notorious conference of deaf educators held in Milan in 1880, Bell, who was himself a fluent signer, and other well-meaning, if misguided, mainstreamers demanded the closing of the deaf asylums and the discontinuance of sign language. For the remainder of the 19th century, sign language was officially discouraged in many European and U.S. public schools for the deaf, an educational catastrophe that the deaf would suffer without complaint for generations.