by Jonathan Franks
From the Editor: Jonathan Franks is a member of the National Federation of the Blind who lives in Austin, Texas. What he writes about is the simple pleasure of being a sports fan and his fear that the loss of sight would mean losing one of his favorite pastimes. But what makes Jonathan’s story interesting is that he is blind, goes to the sports stadium alone, and doesn’t think much of it. In the Federation we have plenty of sports fans and plenty of chapters that go to sporting events, but very few blind people who are willing to attend a game alone. Here is Jonathan’s story:
Since I was four my father has gotten me involved in sports in one way or another. I played soccer for eight years and even won first place on a number of teams. My father and I would go to the park and play football, basketball, baseball, or soccer. I had always wanted to play for the teams at my high school; however, my grades were not up to par.
I grew up in San Jose, California, and we would often travel to Oakland or San Francisco to attend the Oakland Athletics or San Francisco Giants games. I have also had the pleasure of attending a New York Yankees game in New York and a Houston Texans game versus the Indianapolis Colts in Houston, Texas. My next goal is to attend a San Antonio Spurs game in the near future.
Every Sunday and Monday during the football season, my father and I would watch the games on television. I started to lose my sight in December of 2005, and all of my vision disappeared ironically on White Cane Day, October 15, 2006. This was due to diabetic retinopathy and glaucoma. At the time I was very concerned that I would lose my love of sports and particularly my enjoyment of games on television because I could not see. My father convinced me not to give up watching, and he sat with me on Sundays and would describe to me what was happening during the games I chose to watch.
In 2007 and 2008 I attended a local training center, where I learned a number of skills that included Braille, screen reading technology, daily living skills, and, perhaps most important of all, orientation and mobility. One of my assignments was to attend a WWE Monday Night Raw event. This is the professional wrestling program that many of you watch on television. At first the tasks seem daunting; however, I was up for the challenge. This really brought to the forefront my concern about not being able to enjoy a sporting event independently. To my surprise I was able to enjoy myself. This was to be the start of something big.
Since I have moved to Austin, Texas, I have been a major fan of the Texas Longhorns. For those of you who do not know, the Texas longhorn is the mascot of the University of Texas at Austin. I became a loyal fan when I moved here and even a more ardent fan when the team won the national college championship in 2006. But it wasn’t until one day when my father and I went to get some dinner that I found that the Longhorn football games were on the radio. I was amazed by how descriptive the play-by-play announcer was in bringing the game to life. After that experience I decided to abandon television and listen to radio broadcasts. In 2015 I actually met the man who is known as the voice of the Longhorns, Mr. Craig Way. I told him how he had once again brought vitality to the game for me, and I do believe he was flattered.
In 2011 my significant other at the time and I bought tickets for a Texas Longhorn football game. I had always wanted to attend one of the games, and in preparation I bought a handheld radio so that I could listen to Craig Way’s broadcast. The announcer gave me all the play-by-play action, and I was thoroughly captivated by being able to witness the power, the tradition, and the excitement of being at the game. After that I was hooked.
In 2013 I was accepted into the University of Texas at Austin, where I earned my bachelor’s degree in social work with a minor in psychology. There was a sports package available to students, and I bought what was called the Big Ticket package. This gave me access to all of the Texas Longhorn sporting events for only $250. While a student I attended as many football, basketball, baseball, soccer, softball, and volleyball games as I could. During the games I was attending I would post on Facebook, and word got around. Many of my friends were simply amazed that I went to the games and asked me how I could enjoy them given that I was blind. I would happily reply, “I have my radio. It costs me a fortune in batteries, but it is worth it.” I explained that I follow the crowd noise, and if I am unsure about what is happening, I will ask a fellow fan.
The second most frequent question I receive is, “Why do you go to the games alone if you cannot see?” I reply that my blindness does not limit my ability to enjoy the games, and neither does it require that I be accompanied by someone. The event staff will help me locate my seat at the stadium, but by now I have learned the layout and know exactly where to get my food and how to get my ride at the completion of the game.
Even after graduating from the University of Texas in 2016, I still continue to attend as many sporting events as time will allow. For the last two years I have purchased alumni football season tickets, and being a loyal sports fan is one of the most exciting things I do. I have been an avid sports fan for nearly twenty-five years now. The National Federation of the Blind says, and I have affirmed through my own experience, that my blindness does not limit what I can enjoy or dictate my life choices. I live the life I want, including enjoying sports, and I hope that my story encourages all of you to do the same. Hook ‘em Horns!
For more than seventy-five years the National Federation of the Blind has worked to transform the dreams of hundreds of thousands of blind people into reality, and with your support we will continue to do so for decades to come. We sincerely hope you will plan to be a part of our enduring movement by adding the National Federation of the Blind as a partial beneficiary in your will. A gift to the National Federation of the Blind in your will is more than just a charitable, tax-deductible donation. It is a way to join in the work to help blind people live the lives they want that leaves a lasting imprint on the lives of thousands of blind children and adults.
With your help, the NFB will continue to:
Creating a will gives you the final say in what happens to your possessions and is the only way to be sure that your remaining assets are distributed according to your passions and beliefs. Many people fear creating a will or believe it’s not necessary until they are much older. Others think that it’s expensive and confusing. However, it is one of the most important things you will do, and with new online legal programs it is easier and cheaper than ever before. If you do decide to create or revise your will, consider the National Federation of the Blind as a partial beneficiary. Visit www.nfb.org/planned-giving or call (410) 659-9314, extension 2422, for more information. Together with love, hope, determination, and your support, we will continue to transform dreams into reality.
The National Federation of the Blind knows that blindness is not the characteristic that defines you or your future. You can live the life you want; blindness is not what holds you back. A donation to the National Federation of the Blind allows you to invest in a movement that removes the fear from blindness. Your investment is your vote of confidence in the value and capacity of blind people and reflects the high expectations we have for all blind Americans, combating the low expectations that create obstacles between blind people and our dreams.
In 2015 the NFB:
Just imagine what we’ll do next year, and, with your help, what can be accomplished for years to come. Below are just a few of the many diverse, tax-deductible ways you can lend your support to the National Federation of the Blind.
The NFB now accepts donated vehicles, including cars, trucks, boats, motorcycles, or recreational vehicles. Just call (855) 659-9314 toll-free, and a representative can make arrangements to pick up your donation—it doesn’t have to be working. We can also answer any questions you have.
General donations help support the ongoing programs of the NFB and the work to help blind people live the lives they want. Donate online with a credit card or through the mail with check or money order. Visit www.nfb.org/make-gift for more information.
Even if you can’t afford a gift right now, including the National Federation of the Blind in your will enables you to contribute by expressing your commitment to the organization and promises support for future generations of blind people across the country. Visit www.nfb.org/planned-giving or call (410) 659-9314, extension 2422, for more information.
Through the Pre-Authorized Contribution (PAC) program, supporters sustain the efforts of the National Federation of the Blind by making recurring monthly donations by direct withdraw of funds from a checking account or a charge to a credit card. To enroll, visit www.nfb.org/make-gift, complete the Pre-Authorized Contribution form, and return it to the address listed on the form.