Deaf school graduate featured at Bears game

  • Bob Dramin, left, with Otis Wilson, the Bears’ outside linebacker in the 1986 Super Bowl.
  • Bob Dramin, right, with Willie Gault, the Bears’ wide receiver in the 1986 Super Bowl.
  • Bob Dramin, right, with Bears defensive end Richard Dent, MVP of the 1986 Super Bowl.
  • Bob Dramin of Jacksonville waves to the crowd at Chicago’s Soldier Field, moments before he signed the national anthem prior to a recent game.
  • Bob Dramin of Jacksonville (photo inset within flag) signs the national anthem before a Bears-Packers game at Soldier Field, Chicago.

Dramin signs ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’

By Julie Gerke
Photos courtesy of Joel Dramin

“Da Bears” doesn’t need translation, especially for a Jacksonville man who signed the national anthem at a recent Chicago-Green Bay NFL game.

Bob Dramin, a 1988 graduate of the Illinois School for the Deaf and 1994 graduate of Gallaudet University, used American sign language (ASL) to share “The Star-Spangled Banner” with a crowd of 61,000 at the Sept. 10 game at Soldier Field.

He’s been a Bears fan “Since I was a little boy. My favorite player was Walter Payton. It was a true honor to meet three former players, to meet the Super Bowl champions of 1986,” Dramin said through a video relay service interpreter. “They won on my birthday. It was an awesome day. I was a sophomore in high school.”

Dramin’s son, Joel, another Gallaudet graduate, attended the game, photographing his dad on the field, on the big screen and meeting his heroes from the Monsters of the Midway: defensive end and MVP Richard Dent, wide receiver Willie Gault and outside linebacker Otis Wilson.

“Meeting them was such a thrill. … I really want to thank [Chicago Hearing Society] for giving me the opportunity [to sign at the game]. It was a great, great experience,” said Bob Dramin.

Dramin is the third generation of his family, on both sides, born deaf; his children also are deaf. As a longtime teacher of ASL, he’s used to signing in front of groups and crowds but said the Bears game was his largest crowd.

He’d applied for the chance through the hearing society, an advocacy and service group based in Chicago that works with the Bears and other sports teams, in addition to individuals and business groups. His application included a video of him signing the anthem, notoriously difficult for vocalists because of its wide range.

It’s not any easier for people who use ASL. Those who use sign language to share a song use facial expressions and body language to convey high and low notes, pacing and phrasing; for the national anthem, Dramin used peer sign language and made sure to broadly use his expressions and body movements.

Peer sign language, he said, is not a straight translation of English into ASL; instead, a single sign may convey multiple words or ideas. A sign also means a word does not have to be spelled out letter by letter.

For the anthem, he stood in the touchdown zone in front of a camera operator who beamed the image to big screens in the stadium as well as television feeds. Dramin sat in the press box during the game, with a bird’s-eye view of the game, sharing space with national print and television reporters. “It was so cool,” he said.

Dramin worked as an ASL teacher for 25 years, first at the former MacMurray College, at ISD and later at Indiana University/Purdue University Indianapolis. For the last five years, he’s worked for Springfield-based Sorensen Global Communication Solutions, which provides personal communications help, captioned phone service and ASL interpreting.

As much as he enjoyed the experience, the lifelong Bears fan isn’t tied to Soldier Field. “I prefer them to move,” he said, referring to ongoing discussions about moving the team to a suburban site.

“It doesn’t feel super centralized” along the lakefront, he said. “I’ve had a lot of experience at other stadiums and it’s so nice to walk to hotels or for drinks. I’m honestly in support of the move. … It takes a full hour to exit the stadium after the game and then you’re in standstill traffic for two miles.”

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