As It Happens

Milwaukee Bucks' official ASL interpreter hopes to make sign language the norm in sports

Brice Christianson says it was "nerve-wracking" the first time he stood beside the Milwaukee Bucks' head coach to sign a postgame press conference. 

Brice Christianson pitched the idea, which is believed to be a first in the NBA

Christianson interprets for the Milwaukee Bucks' coach Mike Budenholze at a post-game press conference. (Milwaukee Bucks/Twitter)
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Transcript

Brice Christianson says it was "nerve-wracking" the first time he stood beside the Milwaukee Bucks' head coach to sign a postgame press conference. 

Since Oct. 26, at every home game, the team's first American Sign Language interpreter has stood an arm's length away from Mike Budenholzer, interpreting live to a growing audience on social media. 

It's believed to be the first such initiative in the NBA, and possibly in professional sports, and it's all thanks to a push by Christianson.  

"I really wanted this to be something that we shined a spotlight on to create change," he told As It Happens host Carol Off. 

First lanuage is sign 

Christianson is not deaf, but he grew up with ASL as his first language. Both his parents are deaf, as well as several of his friends and family members. 

His dad is also very involved in sports, and they often went to games together. 

"I think in Wisconsin, we're sort of born and bred to be Wisconsin's sports fans," he said. 

These experiences motivated him to push for a change, and to highlight areas where there should be more access for people with hearing impairments — like in sports. 

"It was just trying to be innovative and figure out how to really transform, quote unquote, the system — what is normally thought of as normal," he said. 

'Very unique' 

Christianson had been working as an ASL interpreter for concerts and events at the Bucks' home arena for the past two years when, in September, he decided to approach the team with his idea.  

"I knew it was a very unique and maybe bizarre proposal," he said. 

To his surprise the team jumped on board, including Budenholzer. 

"I always joke that I'm pretty boring," Budenholzer told the New York Times. "So I'm probably pretty boring in sign language, too." 

Budenholzer and Giannis Antetokounmpo from the Milwaukee Bucks. (Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

Before the first game, Christianson said he worried that people would think he was putting himself on a pedestal or making himself into a celebrity. 

"I didn't want it to be a gimmick where it said, 'Hey look we have an interpreter,' and I didn't want that to also make it seem like we were pitying the deaf and hard-of-hearing community," he said. 

But so far, the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. 

The New York Times reports that the news conferences are receiving an average of 7,000 views per game on social media.

"It's exciting to see what's happening," he said.  

Idioms and jargon

Since taking the stage, Christianson says he has been striving to improve every day. After each game, Christianson says he re-watches his performance countless times. 

But there are still some idioms and jargon that catch him by surprise. 

In one instance, Budenholze described the team's star, Giannis Antetokounmpo, as a "monster". 

"It stopped me in my tracks," Christianson said.

If he had signed it literally, Christianson worried people may have thought the coach meant Antetokounmpo was a monster in a horror movie. 

Instead, he used three or four sings to describe Antetokounmpo as "unstoppable."  

"It's the humbling and exciting part of being a sign language interpreter, really approaching and knowing that language evolves and transforms and I need to be open to that," he said.


Written by Sarah Jackson. Produced by Chloe Shantz-Hilkes. 

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