Document Type


Publication Date

Spring 2005


Kenny Walker, a deaf football player; Jim Abbott, a one-handed professional baseball player; Tom Dempsey, a physically disabled professional football kicker; Brad Doty, a paralyzed auto racer; and Nick Ackerman, a wrestler with amputated legs, have all competed at the highest level of sports. Persons with mental illness, individuals who are blind, and students with hearing impairments are seeking an opportunity to compete in fair competition with their non-disabled competitors. Can this occur in a fair, open, and just manner between competing athletes?

Does the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 ("ADA"), the landmark civil rights act protecting an individual with a physical or mental impairment, require leveling the playing field in order for the disabled athlete to compete fairly? Will we see two bounces in tennis at Wimbledon, four strikes at Yankee Stadium, enlarging the basketball rim during March Madness, or a head start for track and field athletes during the Olympics?

Did Casey Martin, a professional golfer with Klippel-Trenaunay-Weber Syndrome, a degenerative circulatory condition affecting blood flow, who was permitted by the United States Supreme Court to use a golf cart while his competition was required to walk during the PGA Tour, forever change the rules of the game? Will the ADA's reasonable accommodation provisions fundamentally alter the game? Can one level the playing field in sports without undermining the essence of athletic competition?

In comparing and contrasting the level of competition ranging from little league baseball and neighborhood soccer leagues for children, to high school athletics, National Collegiate Athletic Association ("NCAA") college programs, and ultimately to professional and Olympic sports, is there room for the disabled athlete to compete fairly, openly, and equitably without disturbing the precious goal of fair competition? How does the ADA impact various levels of competition as the game evolves from a pleasing or amusing pastime for the young athlete to fierce competition by the elite athlete, particularly when it involves our national pastime?

Empirical data provided in this Article is submitted to serve as a backdrop for purposes of elaboration and comparison. One hundred fifteen high school athletic directors in Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Maryland, and twenty-three college athletic programs were surveyed to elicit their opinions on the provision of accommodations to the disabled high school and college athlete in a variety of sports. Data was collected on the type of disability, the particular sport, and the nature of the accommodation permitted, as well as data on the denial of the accommodation, with explanations provided.



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