Schaumburg man helps break a barrier with first ASL broadcasts of Stanley Cup Finals

The Florida Panthers, who hold a commanding 3-0 lead over the Edmonton Oilers in the Stanley Cup Finals, seek to break new ground in their hockey history by winning their first cup.

Jason Altmann, though, already has made history in the broadcast booth.

The Schaumburg man, a third-generation deaf person, is broadcasting the National Hockey League’s greatest moment using American Sign Language, doing play by play with broadcast partner Noah Blankenship of Denver, also deaf.

“This is the first time that a live broadcast has been by the deaf and for the deaf in their native language,” Altmann said over the phone, through interpreter Brice Christianson.

Christianson is founder and CEO of P-X-P, founded in 2020 in Milwaukee. Altmann, P-X-P’s chief operating officer and first deaf broadcaster, joined the ASL interpreting and consulting company in 2022.

The broadcasts for the deaf and hard-of-hearing audience are seen on ESPN+ and, in Canada, on Sportsnet+.

Citing National Institutes of Health data, Altmann said more than 30 million deaf and hard-of-hearing people live in the United States and about 3 million in Canada.

“We’re assuming our broadcast is reaching the majority of those populations,” said Altmann, who served as legislative chair for the Illinois Association of the Deaf from 2015-19 and in 2017 earned its Michael K. Berger Presidential Award for volunteer contributions and social justice advocacy.

Altmann and Christianson, a child of a deaf adult (CODA), met as children through their parents, part of the deaf community in the Fox Cities south of Green Bay.

P-X-P first met with NHL officials in 2021 and the partnership became official in December 2022, Christianson said.

Its first job for the league came when Christianson interpreted NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman’s address before Game 1 of the 2022 Stanley Cup Finals.

Like Blankenship, an alumnus of AHIHA, the Stan Mikita Hockey School for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Altmann is proud of his pioneering role.

“At first glance, the majority of the people might think that this is just cool, it’s elevating accessibility inclusion in sports — which is true — but the impact goes beyond that,” Altmann said.

Recognizing the deaf community prefers their native language, “we’re also preserving American Sign Language, showcasing the world that deaf people are talented, that they can do any job, that they can dream big,” he said. “That’s a huge boost for the deaf community when it comes to morale.”

He said there has been an outpouring of support from deaf people. He saw it firsthand interviewing AHIHA representatives between periods of Game 3 of the finals.

“They had a watch party and they were elated,” Altmann said. “And ... you see a deaf role model on screen that they can relate to. I didn’t have that growing up. But having a deaf role model, it provides kids the ability to dream big. That’s what really touched me.”

Neither Altmann nor Blankenship had broadcast experience before their daylong training sessions ahead of Game 1 in Florida. The Schaumburg man said they must keep on their toes.

Describing one of professional sports’ fastest-moving games, the deaf broadcasters must watch their interpreters who receive the video feed from the NHL production crew, watch their television monitors, follow the game itself, and make sure they’re addressing the proper camera.

“The NHL and ESPN+ and Sportsnet+ opened the door, broke the barrier wide-open to create the (first) deaf broadcasters in professional sports. We’re basically creating a new blueprint on how it can look moving forward,” Altmann said.

Florida could hoist the Stanley Cup as early as Game 4, scheduled for 7 p.m. Saturday. Altmann is playing it by ear.

“That’d be great if the Oilers can win a few more games and we can broadcast more NHL and ASL. I’m all for it,” he said. “It’s been a great ride so far and we’re just living in the moment.”

Article Comments
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the "flag" link in the lower-right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.