A Hole in One For Equality

The Supreme Court has the duty to allow Casey Martin the right to use a cart in golf tournaments so that there will be an end to the exclusion and discrimination of the disabled.

Courtney Takashima
Guardian

The controversy surrounding Martin’s landmark case is whether the Professional Golfers’ Association Tour has the right to exclude golfers with disabilities, or is required by law to make some reasonable accommodations. At stake is the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act, which banned discrimination against the disabled in public accommodations, including golf courses and entertainment sites. The law requires “”reasonable modifications”” for disabled people unless such changes would fundamentally alter the nature of the place or event.

Martin is unable to walk the entire length of the tournament’s course due to an incurable circulatory disorder in his right leg that makes walking painful and potentially dangerous to his health. In 1997, Martin sued the PGA Tour for not complying with the ADA, which gives him a right to use a cart during tour events. A federal district court in Oregon, along with a San Francisco-based Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, agreed that the golf cart merely gave Martin an equal chance to play, not an unfair advantage. Yet, the PGA Tour could not accept having the court dictate how its sport should be played, so it appealed to the Supreme Court.

The PGA Tour argues that allowing Martin to use a cart gives him an unfair advantage over the other players, who must walk. It is obvious that Martin has an inherent disadvantage from the onset because he cannot walk the course without injuring himself. Therefore, the game only becomes fair by allowing Martin to use a cart to get from hole to hole so that he has the chance to compete. Martin’s right to use a cart is not an advantage, but a way to give him equal opportunities as the other competitors.

The PGA Tour also argues that the people who run the sport are the ones who should make the rules: Either a golfer walks the entire green or cannot play. No exceptions, no accommodations. These rules leave the sport of professional golf open exclusively to the able-bodied and closed to anyone with some sort of disability. Yet this arrogant attitude ignores the equality and inclusion principals of the ADA, and instead tries to supersede the PGA and any other sport above the law, subjecting the players to its arbitrary will.

If the PGA Tour prevails in the Supreme Court, society will be split into the healthy and so-called able people, and the disabled and disease-ridden people who must accept their limitations and submit to the elimination of their civil rights. The argument that the disabled cannot compete with able-bodied people sets an ominous tone, the complete exclusion of the disabled from our society. We already have separate, special schools for some of the disabled. If Martin loses, there will be a complete separation of the disabled from mainstream sports.

Next, society may segregate the disabled into specific jobs, separate from the rest. What’s next? Separate drinking fountains or restaurants for the disabled? It’s not so far-fetched, with a not-so-distant past of deeming African-Americans unequal under the law.

If Martin loses, society is down the slippery slope, allowing all our rights to be compromised. Once the rights of one group in our society are compromised, it is only a matter of time before someone takes aim at everybody’s rights. Therefore, it is imperative that the Supreme Court rule in Martin’s favor in order to maintain equal opportunity and protection for all under the law. Otherwise, we might as well throw out our Constitution, Bill of Rights and all of our federal laws as obsolete and utterly useless.

It is clear that all the PGA Tour wants to do is to protect its precious, elitist sport and its perfect image. What about the law? Isn’t it supposed to protect the strong and weak alike without favoritism or discrimination? The PGA Tour asks Martin and other golfers to play by the rules. Yet they are unwilling to play by the rules of human decency and equal protection for all.

Congress specifically stated in the ADA that “”the Nation’s proper goals regarding individuals with disabilities are to assure equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living and economic self-sufficiency for such individuals.”” Thus, it is clear that the ADA was made to end discrimination and to promote inclusion of disabled people into the mainstream, but it is obvious from this current controversy that the law did not do nearly enough.

However, the underlying reason why discrimination persists is not really the law, for the law is on the books and ready to be properly enforced. The problem lies in society’s view of what a disabled person can and cannot do, which hasn’t changed much within the last decade. The Martin case is merely a reflection of society’s attitudes as a whole toward disabled people. Only if the Supreme Court rules in favor of Martin will the ADA finally be given the ultimate power to stamp out discrimination against disabled people.

A decision to let Martin use a cart does not fundamentally alter the game of golf as his foes argue. Instead, it physically forces a change in the consciousness of the people who make the rules in sports to be as inclusive and nondiscriminatory as possible. By protecting the disabled from discriminatory practices, we are not only reaffirming our Constitutional truths of equal opportunity and protection under the law, also ensuring the preservation of the rights we hold dear.

Thus, the only acceptable decision by the Supreme Court is that the use of a golf cart gives Martin an equal chance to compete, not an unfair advantage. Anything else would be a betrayal of our constitutional ideals.