ASHBURN, Va. | “Reed!” ”Reed!” ”REEEEEEED!”
Jim Haslett kept yelling Reed Doughty’s name, trying to get the safety’s attention at a Washington Redskins practice this week.
Doughty didn’t respond because Doughty couldn’t hear. Finally, several teammates went over and tapped him on his shoulder, making him aware that he was wanted by the defensive coordinator.
“The communication between us is not great,” Haslett said. “Because when I yell, I get louder — and he still doesn’t hear.”
Beginning his fifth season in the NFL, Doughty is one of the great survivor stories of pro football, having overcome several gut-wrenching physical and psychological setbacks — any one of which might have caused a weaker athlete to throw in the towel. Yet the 27-year-old with the boyish face is still plugging away, and he is expected to be in the starting lineup Sunday night when the Redskins open the season against the Dallas Cowboys.
“Perseverance is one of his strongest traits,” safeties coach Steve Jackson said. “You can’t knock a good man down, and he’s a good man. He’s had a lot of things try to knock him down.”
Consider the hurdles listed in the Reed Doughty bio:
— He was a sixth-round pick from Northern Colorado, a Football Championship Subdivision school that averages about two draftees per decade.
— He’s had hearing loss his entire life, inherited from his father. It gets worse as he gets older. It stumped the coaches when he was a rookie in 2006.
“For a guy to be so smart, he used to always make a lot of mistakes. And no one knew why. You look at him, and every time you say something, he’s really looking at you at your face and everything. And you’re like, ‘Gah, he really pays attention. Why doesn’t he know anything? He must be a dumb son of a …,’” said Jackson, his voice trailing off into a laugh.
“But he was looking at you,” Jackson continued, “to read your lips.”
Jackson realized he should no longer talk while writing on the whiteboard during meetings — because his back was turned to Doughty. Jackson therefore developed a whole new different rhythm: Write something, turn to speak, write something, turn to speak.
“His play picked up,” said Jackson, snapping his fingers, “like that.”
— Also in 2006, Doughty’s son Micah was born six weeks prematurely and had chronic kidney failure. After long days of practice and meetings at Redskins Park, Doughty would go home and help his wife hook up their son to a dialysis machine. When Micah was 19 months old, he had finally grown enough to accept a kidney transplant. The donor was Doughty’s wife, Katie.
Micah turned 4 last week. Doughty beamed with pride at the mention of the milestone.
“He’s doing phenomenal,” Doughty said.
— In 2008, Doughty had a serious nerve problem in his back. It spread, causing numbness in one foot. He was placed on injured reserve in early October and had surgery. Not too many people were expecting him back in 2009.
“It was scary,” Doughty said. “There were a lot of doctors saying this was something you may never come back from, but the surgeon that did it told me I think this is something you’ll come back from and do quite well. So I just trusted God that no matter what happened I’d be healthy just so I could play with my kids. And if I could play football on top of it, that would be awesome. And I just worked hard in rehab and it worked out.”
Doughty is returning the favors as much as he can. It takes nearly a full column in the media guide to list his volunteer work with groups such as the National Kidney Foundation and the Spinal Research Foundation.
While Micah is doing well and the back injury is firmly in the rearview mirror, Doughty and his teammates and coaches still have the daily challenge of dealing with his hearing loss. He now wears a hearing aid in meetings, but it doesn’t work on the field because it can’t filter out all of the background noise from the crowd.
When Doughty is in the game, he often stands near middle linebacker London Fletcher to hear the defensive call, then relays a separate call to the rest of the secondary. The Redskins can trust Doughty with that role because he’s studious and knows the play book well.
Doughty and fellow safety LaRon Landry have also become adapt at using hand signals to communicate, but messages don’t always get through. Landry says there have been times he’s tried to alert Doughty to change in plans before the snap — but to no avail.
“I try to call him and he’s over there — he’s in tune (to the play) — so I just let him play that side and just adapt,” Landry said.
But it usually works out because of Doughty’s smarts and toughness — not to mention a strong faith that has seen him through all his trials, plus enough humbleness for him to realize his role.
“The coaches trust me,” Doughty said. “I may not be a flashy player, but I’m going to make good tackles, make good decisions and execute the game plan.”
Doughty also this well-grounded assessment of his hearing loss and hair loss, both genetic and inevitable.
“I’m bald. I’m going to be deaf,” he said in a matter-of-fact tone. “And I’ve got a great family with two great kids, so I’m not worried about it.”
Doughty has started 16 of his 45 games over four seasons. A natural strong safety, he is now working with the first team at free safety only because Kareem Moore is out with a sprained right knee.
Yet, considering all that he’s been through, Doughty has accomplished quite a bit. After all, how players can sum up their career like this?
“Stuff happens, and they trust me to play,” Doughty said. “And I’m still here because of that.”