The Casey Martin Decision: What it Means for Disabled Players

By Gary Norris Gray
Updated: August 3, 2005

Curtis Pride

Curtis Pride

EL CERRITO, CA–The Supreme Court ruled on Martin playing golf in the PGA. In a 7- 2-split decision, the court, apart from Justice Scalia and my old buddy Clarence Thomas, who were the two opposing justices, said the PGA does not have a right to ban Martin from using a cart. Scalia and Thomas said that the PGA had the right to set their own rules.

We would all like to see these two justices disabled for a day or maybe even a week. Maybe then they could see the life of challenges faced by disabled Americans. Then, maybe, they would change their minds.

Golf tournaments are public accommodations and are covered by the 1990 and 1992 Americans with Disabilities Acts (ADA); letting Casey Martin use a cart is a reasonable modification that gives him the access required by law.

This could be the landmark court decision most disabled athletes have been looking for. Time and time again disabled athletes have had to conform to their non-disabled sports partners. Playing, if you will, with a double handicap. This not just nor is it fair but disabled athletes just keep going

In this decision, the Supreme Court allowed Martin the use of a golf cart while playing the game he so loves. The Court also narrowed the decision only to the Casey Martin case and nobody else. Thus, the Professional Golf Association can still bar individuals from taking the cart on the golf course, but I think they will not be so aggressive the next time. Many other professional organizations will also evaluate the situation before barring any other disabled person from their sport.

Martin was born with a disability that slowly takes away the use of muscles in a leg, an arm, or a foot. This process will proceed until the limb is rendered useless. So in my opinion, every day Casey Martin takes to the greens is a day of joy and wonderment, playing with all the other golf professionals.

With this current court decision and the feedback, the Professional Golf Association has shown its true colors. This organization has no class and wants to stick by its ancient rules, no matter what the case or cause. All of these recent legal procedures caused one of most embarrassing public relations disasters in sports history. If the world followed the PGA letter of the law rules, disabled people in this country would all be in serious trouble. The PGA should be ashamed of itself because there are so few disabled pro athletes in this world. Actually, you can count them all on one hand.

Curtis John Pride of the Atlanta Braves is deaf and this team has won the world championship of baseball. This man cannot hear, but he can hit a baseball and field his position as well as any other baseball player. He just has to pay attention to the game a lot more than other players in the league. His eyes serve double duty and he must be alert the whole game.

Tom Dempsey of the New Orleans Saints had a clubfoot. Dempsey was the field goal kicker for the New Orleans Saints. People all over the country and fellow players said it was an unfair advantage. Dempsey had a square toe shoe on his kicking foot. He broke the national football league record for the longest field goal–a long 63 yards at the end of the game to defeat the Detroit Lions. I was in high school then and I kept thinking this was fantastic. It was a victory for the Saints and a very happy Tom Dempsey, smiling ear to ear. I felt good seeing a fellow disabled person perform well at any professional sport.

Americans should be ashamed that the Martin case had to be taken to court by a man who just loves the game and wants to play golf. Common sense should have ruled the day.

Sports should be for everyone and if somebody can play the professional game well they should be allowed to play. If a disabled athlete puts in the time, endures the stress, and shows the dedication he or she should be rewarded just like able-bodied athlete. This athlete should be on the court, on the field, on the bowling alley, or in the swimming pool, wherever the sport is played.

Disabled bowlers have had an experience with professional sports being afraid of the unknown. The American Bowling Congress (ABC) wanted disabled bowlers to stop bowling in sanctioned leagues. There are certain rules in their books that state that it is illegal to move the bowling ball with a mechanical object, meaning motorized wheelchairs, thus creating a large problem. Many leagues did not want disabled bowlers with motorized chairs to participate. Many disabled bowlers still have to find disabled friendly leagues, and, even then, some individuals in the league did not like it. Finally, many disabled bowlers had a meeting with three ABC representatives about disabled bowlers who could not bowl in leagues throughout America because of this law. Disabled Bowlers had to show them that it really was not an advantage to bowl in a motorized chair.

Disabled Americans finally got ABC to amend the rules just like the Supreme Court has modified the PGA laws on disabled issues. So just like The Civil Rights Laws of the 60’s it will take more time and more understanding. So thank you, Casey Martin, for fighting the fight and hanging tough against the Professional Golf Association.

Many other disabled athletes respect you, even if you don’t win a single title; you are king of golf in many sports enthusiast book. Tiger Woods and Mr. Sing, move over; Casey Martin is here.

NOTE: contributed to this story.