NHL to broadcast Stanley Cup Final games in American Sign Language, a 1st for a major sports league | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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NHL to broadcast Stanley Cup Final games in American Sign Language, a 1st for a major sports league

FILE - Brice Christianson poses for a photo after interpreting NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman's annual state of the league news conference from English into American Sign Language, June 15, 2022, at Ball Arena in Denver before Game 1 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup Final. The NHL will become the first major sports league to provide a full game broadcast in American Sign Language to serve the Deaf community. The league is unveiling broadcasts with play by play and color analysis for each game of the Stanley Cup Final in partnership with P-X-P. It is the same company that did the first interpretation of Commissioner Gary Bettman and Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly's annual pre-final state of the league news conference two years ago. (AP Photo/Stephen Whyno, file)
Original Publication Date June 05, 2024 - 6:36 AM

While interpreting the annual pre-Stanley Cup Final state of the NHL address into American Sign Language for the first time in 2022, Brice Christianson worried that it was a one-time thing, his only chance to open the door to hockey for the Deaf community.

Two years later, it is difficult for him not to get emotional as the league takes another big step.

The Stanley Cup Final will mark the first time a major sports league airs games in ASL, with each game of the series between Edmonton and Florida featuring deaf broadcasters doing play by play and color analysis. Game 1 is Saturday.

“This is a great first step of having representation, having deaf people on screen, having the Deaf community connect to people like them,” said Christianson, the founder and CEO of P-X-P, which is doing the telecasts that will be available on ESPN+ and Sportsnet+. “For the NHL to sign off on this and to believe in this, it’s groundbreaking. It’s truly historic and also they’ve doubled down and said that they want to continue to do this."

This next step in the NHL's partnership with P-X-P, a company that works to make sports more inclusive through interpretation, comes on the heels of another history-making moment: TNT doing an ASL broadcast of the U.S. Women’s Deaf National Soccer Team's match against Australia last weekend. Reporter Melissa Ortiz was on screen describing the action in ASL.

That will be the case in the Cup Final for Jason Altmann, who is third-generation deaf and P-X-P's chief operating officer, and Noah Blankenship from Denver's Office of Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services. Having that representation is more significant than closed captioning because it serves the Deaf community directly rather than making members read words about the games.

“For us to be able to have this real-time coverage of play by play and color commentary in American Sign Language being called directly as opposed to a re-interpretation is really what the Deaf and hard-of-hearing community want,” said Kim Davis, the NHL's senior executive VP of social impact, growth initiatives and legislative affairs. “It’s what they deserve. That makes the game truly meaningful for them. It is not like you’re re-interpreting for them basically from another language. They are hearing the game live in their own language and the way in which they understand it best.”

Reaching this point is another accomplishment for Christianson, an ASL interpreter who was born to deaf parents and has tried for years to persuade teams and leagues to try things like this. The connection with the NHL began at a 2021 meeting with VP of youth strategy and hockey culture Paul LaCaruba that ended with Christianson pleading for one person to buy into his ideas to serve the Deaf community.

Christianson said LaCaruba became that person, paving the way for him to interpret for Commissioner Gary Bettman and Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly two years ago. That was at a news conference, but this is a chance to bring the most important games of the season to an underserved segment of the population.

“We know there are millions of deaf and hard of hearing hockey fans — and many more who have yet to fall in love with the sport,” LaCaruba said. "We are building access for the Deaf community, by the Deaf community, and there is no better platform to gauge a reaction than during the Stanley Cup Final.”

The intent is to gauge a reaction, not do a victory lap. Christianson said there is a plan to continue doing this for the NHL beyond just this series, and that path forward allows this to be a test of sorts, with possible changes and improvements for the next time.

“I think it’s very brave for the NHL to say, ‘Hey we want to do this,’” Christianson said. “We’re all going to go in with our best and we’re going to try our best, and then we’re going to come back and we’re going to debrief and we’re going to try to get better with every process.”

It may wind up being a blueprint for others. Davis, who has learned a lot about ASL and communicating with the Deaf community, would be thrilled if the NHL is the first but not the last to experiment with something like this.

“We’re doing something no other major league has ever tried before, and that is a broadcast and experience for the Deaf by the Deaf,” Davis said. “We’re proud of that. We just want to continue to support those communities that we want to be authentic with, and if another league wants to model it, we think that imitation is the best form of flattery, so let’s do it.”


AP NHL playoffs: https://apnews.com/hub/stanley-cup and https://www.apnews.com/hub/NHL

News from © The Associated Press, 2024
The Associated Press

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