Next time you're passing Specsavers (no, this isn't a plug for their wares), have a look at the Autumn/Winter issue of their magazine. It contains an interesting article about Ben. It seems that his father, George Cohen, was stone-deaf in his final years and Ben is also facing increasing problems with his hearing. I'm getting a tad Mutt and Jeff but I am well into my seventies. It seems Ben is very unfortunate.
It is alleged that the opprobrium heaped upon him by Welsh supporters when he said "who?" when asked an opinion of Shane Williams was totally unfounded as he was not being sarcastic, but the interviewer had picked the wrong ear!
In the club he was well known for being aurally challenged - but less so in the wider world.
Well folks, due to the powers vested in me as a Specsavers employee and leading exponent of cut and paste, here is the article from our intranet:
From rugby test to hearing test
20 July 2011 - by Trish Grover
Top rugby international, Ben Cohen, talks about his hearing condition, in an interview to be featured in the next Specsavers magazine.
Ben Cohen suffers from a hereditary condition that has left him clinically deaf in both ears. Like his late father and his uncle George, the 1966 World Cup football legend, Ben is ‘as deaf as a post’. He recalls: ‘Being six years old and lying awake all night, because there was so much noise in my ears.’
Ben has been into our Milton Keynes hearing centre to be tested by audiologist Ehtsham Rashid.
Ehtsham explains to Ben: ‘That’s tinnitus, which you were diagnosed with at an early stage of your hearing loss.’
Talking through the results he adds:
‘Your hearing is good at low frequencies, where we hear vowels. Your problem is at higher frequencies, where you’re missing consonants like s and t.’
Coping with that in everyday life is hard enough, but world-class team sport is another matter. Ben plays it down: ‘I’ve learned to read lips and facial expressions,’ he explains, ‘but some pitches, like Cardiff and Paris, are particularly noisy. Welsh and French supporters love to sing and both stadiums focus everything onto the pitch, which made things quite difficult for me.’
Ben has had in-the-ear hearing aids for many years but confesses: ‘I’ve hardly used them. I’ve got an instinctive rugby brain, so I’m ok out on the pitch.’
Things still go wrong, as Ben recalls from England’s victorious 2003 World Cup, in Australia: ‘I was sat waiting for a team talk to start, when I noticed a newspaper on the floor and started reading it. Next thing I knew Clive Woodward was telling me to go. The room was empty. I’d missed everything.’
Ben understands his reputation for rudeness: ‘I either ignore people, because I can’t hear them, or they feel threatened because I stare. I’m just focusing on their lips and expressions, which looks odd if you’re unaware of my hearing loss.’
But family life can present the biggest hurdle for hearing loss sufferers. Ben lives on a Northamptonshire farm with wife Abby and twin daughters, Harriette and Isabelle, along with a chocolate Labrador and a squad of horses, ducks and chickens. Ben says his hearing loss is frustrating for everyone: ‘Abby has to call me so many times, which is a nuisance for her and isolating for me. I can’t hear a thing in restaurants and always ask for the music to be turned down. I also need headphones to use Bluetooth in the car. You just learn to cope.’
Coping, agrees Ehtsham, is a typical reaction: ‘People with a hearing loss live without realising what they can’t hear. That’s why regular hearing checks are so important.’ The results, he says, can be life changing: ‘For me, the best reward is when someone thanks you for giving them their husband or wife back.’
He may have enjoyed a meteoric sporting career, but Ben now faces his greatest challenge. Having retired from professional rugby, he launched the StandUp Foundation - his global anti-bullying initiative - in May 2011. It’s known for combating homophobia in sport but, for Ben, it’s a wider issue: ‘This is about tackling the whole business of bullying, in all its forms.’
Ben is passionate – because it’s personal. His father, Peter, died tragically in 2000 after being attacked by three men in Northampton’s Eternity nightclub, where he was the manager. Ben explains: ‘Dad lost his life protecting someone. I’m not ashamed to say that drove me when I was out on the pitch.’
Ben’s new project has finally made him confront his own difficulties: ‘Launching the StandUp Foundation has taken me beyond the world of rugby. I’m in an unfamiliar environment, where every day is a learning experience. I can’t afford to miss a single word, so it’s time to take my hearing seriously.’
Beating prejudice is no small task but, with his drive, charisma and reputation, Ben Cohen is the man for the job. And with his newly restored hearing he’s a formidable foe. Bullies, be very afraid.
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