With each passing year, the NFL has gone to great lengths to connect the night’s entertainment with the Deaf community. Along with the high-profile names booked to sing the National Anthem and take center stage during the halftime show are deaf actors, singers, and entertainers who perform the numbers in American Sign Language. And for Super Bowl LVII in 2023, the organization booked one of the higher-profile — but still criminally under-the-radar — deaf actors working today: Troy Kotsur.
Having primarily worked in theater for decades, and dabbled in film over the last 20 years, Kotsur burst into the mainstream in the 2021 film CODA, which earned him a handful of awards, including the Best Supporting Actor Oscar. The Apple release, about a young woman struggling to balance life as a “child of deaf adults” with her desire to pursue a career in music, also went on to win Best Picture at the 2022 Academy Awards. (But it is somehow severely underrated by people who think it’s too tiny to win such a prestigious award — poo on you, haters!) Kotsur was also instrumental in developing the Tusken Raider sign language seen in The Mandalorian, in which he also appeared. On Sunday, Kotsur joins country music star Chris Stapleton on the field to sing “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
Kotsur isn’t the only deaf performer to look out for at Super Bowl LVII. The pregame entertainment will see Colin Denny, who is from the Navajo Nation in Arizona, perform “America the Beautiful” with R&B singer Babyface. According to a news release from the National Association of the Deaf, his rendition will incorporate both ASL and North American Indian Sign Language.
New to the game this year is a performance of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” sung by Sheryl Lee Ralph of Abbott Elementary fame. Justina Miles, a Philadelphia-born performer, will stand with Ralph to accompany her in ASL. Miles will also perform in ASL during Rihanna’s Super Bowl halftime show.
The NFL’s work with the Deaf community has met a fair share of controversy; it’s one thing to hire artists to perform in ASL, and another to give them a visible platform for the world to see, as many have pointed out in recent years. But with a rise in prominence of deaf artists in film, TV, and music, there’s reason to think the spotlight is big enough for all involved. And seriously, watch CODA.