One of the most famous disability cases in the U.S. involved a pro golfer named Casey Martin. Although Mr. Martin was good enough to have made it to the U.S. Open in 1997, he was told by PGA TOUR, Inc. that he could not use his golf cart in the final phases of the competition. The reason, he was told, was because it would violate the rule prohibiting golf carts at that stage of play.
This was indeed what the rule said and it had a very laudable purpose – to avoid one competitor having an unfair advantage over the others. But Mr. Martin had Klippel-Trenaunay-Weber Syndrome, a degenerative circulatory disorder that obstructed blood flow, made walking extremely painful and fatiguing, and caused him to risk hemorrhaging and potential leg amputation.
It was definitely the kind of health condition covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the U.S. Open Tour was among the events that was required to follow the law, if it could do so without either “fundamentally altering” the game or creating an “undue burden.”
The PGA Tour argued that to allow Martin to use a cart would indeed change the whole nature of the game by putting him at an undue advantage over other competitors. But the Supreme Court disagreed, writing that “Plaintiff is in significant pain when he walks, and even when he is getting in and out of the cart. With each step, he is at risk of fracturing his tibia and hemorrhaging. The other golfers have to endure the psychological stress of competition as part of their fatigue; Martin has the same stress plus the added stress of pain and risk of serious injury. As he put it, he would gladly trade the cart for a good leg. To perceive that the cart puts him–with his condition–at a competitive advantage is a gross distortion of reality.” https://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-supreme-court/532/661.html
So Casey Martin was able to use his cart in the competition. So was Jack Daly, another well-known pro golfer with an arthritic knee, a condition that – depending on the severity – is most likely covered under the ADA. But when Mr. Daly attempted to compete last week in the British Open, he was told he could not use his golf cart, and the reasons were quite similar to those given to Casey Martin more than 20 years ago. 019/07/06/british-open-organizers-refuse-request-by-daly-to-use-cart/39659051/
The British Open is being held in Northern Ireland, where the disability laws are different than in the United States. And I’m not going to cast any moral or legal judgments about the situation, which I’m sure is more complicated than we know. But I do hope that as a worldwide culture, we are continuing to take a second look at traditions that are not only exclusionary, but may well have outlived their usefulness.
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