MILWAUKEE — As the Milwaukee Bucks continue to chase a championship, they’ve already made history by becoming the first professional sports team to provide a sign language interpreter for team interviews.
Over the past couple of years, more and more news conferences have been accompanied by a sign language interpreter, but it wasn’t incorporated in professional sports until the Bucks decided it should be.
It’s something most people never think about, but not all sports fans have the ability to hear. Brice Christianson says that doesn’t mean they aren’t watching.
“The deaf community are really hardcore sports fans, especially in Wisconsin,” Christianson said.
Christianson isn’t deaf, but he grew up with parents who are. Because of that, his first language was American Sign Language.
“My dad, being a huge sports fan, attending sports games with him, so that’s where the sports interpreting started,” he said. “When I was about 7 or 8 years old going to Lambeau Field and interpreting for him and little did I know, 25 years later I would actually turn it into a legit career.”
Christianson’s compassion for the Deaf community and his love for sports led him on a mission to get a professional team to hire him to be a sign language interpreter for pre and post-game interviews. He said several teams passed on his pitch.
“We think, ‘well they can just rely on closed captions’, but American Sign Language, roughly around 2 million people in the deaf community use American Sign Language, closed captions is in their second language, English,” Christianson said.
But nearly two years ago, Milwaukee Bucks President Peter Feigin gave Christianson a different answer.
“We kind of thought about it for three seconds and said, ‘oh my gosh. This is great, great opportunity to get it done’, and make a long story short, we spent like a month figuring out production, figuring out how do we do this and how do we do it at a gold standard level and really set the baseline for sports entertainment,” Feigin said.
Christianson can be seen in the upper corner of the screen on every Bucks news conference posted to the team’s website and social media pages. He’s provided the Deaf community up-to-date information on the team through the pandemic and into the playoffs.
“Some people when they look at sports interpreting, I hope they don’t scoff when they think, ‘oh, it’s just sports interpreting, tt’s not an emergency situation’. It’s access,” he said.
Access to millions of people. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, one in 10 Americans lives with some degree of hearing loss and more than 2.2 million are considered Deaf. While Christianson is proud of what he and the Bucks have accomplished, he hopes many other teams follow suit.
“I really want to incorporate more visibility and awareness and it’s such a vibrant and unique and loving community that I want more people to recognize how wonderful this community is,” he said.