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As a deaf child, former NFL star Kenny Walker felt like an outsider. As Kenny matured, however, he compensated for his deafness with great physical prowess. His larger-than-normal frame, extensive knowledge of football, and intense focus attracted the attention of his high school football coaches and, later on, many powerhouse college coaches.

When Kenny’s high school coach asked him where he wanted to play college football, he signed "N" for Nebraska, a team he had always dreamed of playing for. Nebraska’s coaches immediately signed him and made arrangements to have an interpreter present at every practice and game.

Kenny was so successful at Nebraska that he made All-American and was named Big Eight Conference "Defensive Player of the Year." But the crowning moment of his college football career came during his final home game.

Traditionally, senior players were introduced alphabetically and ran onto the field, welcomed by a cheering crowd. But because Kenny was deaf, the university and local community plotted a unique way to praise Kenny. In a special article, the Omaha World Herald showed the fans how they could sign an ovation: they could stand, hold their hands above their heads, fingers spread, and then wave both hands from side to side.

When Kenny stood in the stadium tunnel, he felt the vibration of the cheering crowd as each senior ran out on the field. But when he ran out on the field, he felt no vibrations. Puzzled, he stopped and looked around the stadium to see over 75,000 fans standing for him, waving their hands in a way that only a deaf person would recognize as an applause.

Citation: John G. Hubbell, "Kenny Walker Listens with His Heart," Reader’s Digest (October 1993)

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