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Deaf community finds DK Metcalf’s sign language TD celebrations a ‘hot topic’: ‘He has the swagger’

It’s not just that DK Metcalf is learning American Sign Language and using it on a national stage — it’s that, even as a discernible novice, he’s doing it with a level of finesse that shows he just gets it.

“He has the swag with it. And that’s half the battle sometimes with signing,” said Sean Forbes, one of the deaf rappers who broke down barriers at the Super Bowl halftime show two years ago with Eminem, Snoop Dogg and other hip-hop stars. “You have to have the nuances, the vibes, the way that your hands move and flow has to be there. … He had the rhythm to it, where most beginning signers would be a little more choppy.”

Metcalf, the Seattle Seahawks wide receiver, introduced a twist to the typical NFL touchdown celebration this season, signing one-liners in the end zone in recent games against the Los Angeles Rams and Dallas Cowboys. He’s quipped that the practice could help him avoid fines for trash-talking — but there’s much more to it. In the same way the former All-Pro studies opposing defenses, Metcalf meets Tuesdays with a coach to sharpen his signing skills.

Metcalf, whose signing first came to light last month, took an ASL summer class in college and restarted learning the language at the beginning of this season. He meets via video call once a week with Darrell Utley, a Tennessee-based instructor Metcalf connected with through his agency. Utley said he didn’t know Metcalf was an NFL player when they first started lessons. He said in an email the former Pro Bowler is “an inquisitive and open-minded student” who’s “dedicated and committed to learning sign language.”

Metcalf, 25, said he started learning ASL as a way to “exercise his mind” and take it off football (he previously took acting classes for the same reason, and is also pursuing guitar). The trash-talking potential was a secondary thought.

Kurz, who is deaf, said through an interpreter that Metcalf’s use of sign language has become a “hot topic.”

“Deaf people are honestly quite tired of others who just want to learn sign language for the sole purpose of learning foul language or curse signs,” Kurz explained, noting Metcalf hasn’t veered into that territory — so far. “We would much rather people actually show interest in learning ASL because they would like to communicate with deaf people, or want to learn about Deaf culture and Deaf community.

It’s also just the latest in a string of moves made by those involved in football around Deaf inclusion. While ASL performers during the Super Bowl national anthem have been standard for years as part of a partnership with the National Association of the Deaf and deaf civil rights lawyer Alexis Kashar, Forbes’ appearance alongside fellow deaf rapper Wawa marked the first ASL performers at the halftime show. Last year, deaf performer Justina Miles signed Rihanna’s hits.

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