Dominick Petrillo is a freelance writer, who focuses on special features and game previews for PhiladelphiaEagles.com. Here, he shares his story of how – despite being blind – he is able to experience the game of football.
Like you, some of my greatest memories are of sports. Watching Mike Schmidt hit home run No. 500 against the Pittsburgh Pirates was something I will never forget ... being at the Phillies game on May 2, 2011, and chanting USA with the rest of the crowd ... and, of course, the football memories. Watching the Fog Bowl between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Chicago Bears and watching Randall Cunningham make the most incredible touchdown throw ever after doing a one-handed pushup to avoid being tackled. Amazing.
But I cannot do this anymore.
I did not see the Philadelphia Eagles win the Super Bowl in the 2017 season. I was not at the parade with the rest of the city. And it has been a long time since I went to a Phillies game at Citizens Bank Park. This is because on November 19, 2012, just over one year after my incredible night at the Phillies game, I went blind from diabetes.
Family and friends thought things would take a turn for the worse with me. Instead, I decided to take a different course. I realized I was not dead. Simple, I know. But what should have killed me, in my mind, did just the opposite. It gave me a reason to fight on. I decided I could use my story and the stories of others to help so many. Through my love of football and writing, I had something I could still offer. Hope. Hope to others who are blind, others who are struggling with their own demons. And hope for those millions of younger people who are still in school and wondering what their future holds despite their disabilities. With more than 60 million disabled individuals in the country, it is imperative for all of us to take a look at ourselves. Take a look at how we look at others. I, and those like me, just want to be seen as people. But to some, we are seen as less than that. This is where these stories from athletes, coaches, and staff can be a crucial factor. They can show that all people have struggles. All people have tough times. But with help and understanding, we can all overcome.
Within the past year, my struggles have continued to grow. I found out I am in the final stage of kidney failure. This means that while awaiting a kidney and pancreas transplant, I am required to be on dialysis three days a week for four hours a day. As draining as this has been physically, I continue to work each and every day to improve and make my way. I have put in hour upon hour of work. The kindness shown to me by the likes of the late, great Chris Wesseling, as well as friends and colleagues like Marc Sessler and Ryan Wilson have not gone unnoticed. It is with their help and support that I continue to pursue my dream of becoming a full-time sportswriter. It is with their support that I continue to put myself out there, hoping for my time.
Diabetes took my sight. But it left me with vision.
Now, everything is different, from the way I live each day to the way I follow the sports I love. I still play fantasy football, the same way I have for more than 20 years. I still love all aspects of the game. From college to NFL, there is no better sport than football. But my viewing habits have changed. No more sports bars or get-togethers. Now, it is alone in my house, so I can hear the announcers and hopefully follow along.
I know what some of you are thinking. Why don't you just listen to Merrill and Mike on the radio? To be honest, I just do not want to be different. I want to enjoy the game with people who do come over. I do not want to limit their enjoyment by making them listen to something they can watch. This may seem silly, but to me, it is important. I do not want to make others uncomfortable.
Some announcers are better than others. Greg Olsen and Tony Romo are wonderful. I have found that a lot of former players are better at describing the game in a way I can follow. Other broadcasters seem to ad-lib a bit too much, making it more difficult to decipher what is happening on the field. I appreciate the arduous work and dedication put in by former players, the ones who were not brought up in broadcasting school.
Getting excited over a big run or a long pass is universal. We all do it. Just because I cannot see it, this does not mean I cannot feel the excitement of the crowd and the announcers. I had sight for 32 years of my life. I know what it looks like to see a breakaway run. I know what it is like to see a long pass to end a game. These plays are exciting. Not just for fans of the team, but for fans of the game of football. Harkening back to those memories. Envisioning them as I listen to the announcers describe a big play. This brings just as much joy now as it did then. Perspective is in the eye of the person who is seeing it. My perspective is different than yours. But in many ways, it is better. Not only do I have my perspective, but I also have known yours and this means I also have yours. And you know what they say, if one is good, two is better. Well, not always, but in this case, it is true.
I think the world would be a much better place if everyone in it went blind for one year. Having to learn to live differently. Not seeing people for their color, but for their intentions and their heart. The same can be said for football. I dare you to watch a game with a blindfold. Or even just listen to it on the radio. When you hear a big play, imagine in your head the players running down the field with the defenders chasing them. Trying to track them down. It really is remarkable what your mind can do when your eyes fail you.
You and I view the game differently. But we process it the same. I love to research the stats and game totals just the same as you. Sure, I am forced to find websites and mobile apps which are accessible. It is harder than you might think. But I seek them out for one reason. I love the game. Blindness is not going to stop me from watching it. Non-accessible websites are not going to stop me, either. I wish all sites were accessible. But they aren't, so I manage. Just like millions of others, I find a way to get what I need. In a world that is changing around us, one thing is staying the same – sports. It will always be there for us. It will remain a constant in a world of change. And I, for one, appreciate the game for what it is. A release from the world and something I am passionate about using to help others.