Martin's case won't open floodgates
Editor's Note: ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas is a commercial litigator for Moore & Van Allen, PLLC, a law firm in Charlotte, N.C.
The Supreme Court's ruling in favor of Casey Martin is a surprise to me. In my reading of the case law, I did not think the court would allow the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act to extend to the PGA Tour.
At the same time the ruling is narrowly tailored. Although Martin will be able to compete with a cart in a PGA Tour event, the ruling will not necessarily open the floodgates for anyone with a disability to be allowed to compete with assistance that other players don't get. We are unlikely to see other similar cases because PGA Tour competition is so stiff. Few Americans with disabilities will be able to compete at the highest level.
From the Tour's perspective, the case was more about the PGA Tour's ability to make and enforce its own rules than it was about Casey Martin. The PGA Tour wanted to avoid having the courts step in and make determinations about the rules, both now and in the future. On that level, the Tour lost.
In following through with the case, the PGA Tour made a gigantic public-relations error. But the Tour was not evil or wrong; it just saw the case differently. I do not feel the PGA Tour was anti-Casey Martin. I think the PGA Tour was squarely behind him in his pursuits to both get his card and to compete successfully on the tour. The Martin case divided a lot of fair-minded, reasonable people.
Preferably, instead of litigating the matter, the PGA Tour should have settled the case out of court and created an exception for Martin -- and Martin alone. Then, if confronted with another case like Martin in the future, the Tour could have enforced the rules as it saw fit.
I do not see the ruling fundamentally altering competition in golf as well as other sports as some people do. There may be implications for other sports, but you would be hardpressed to find another sport that could make an accommodation for the athlete to compete.
In other words, I cannot imagine another scenario where a disabled athlete would be qualified to play. For instance, if Martin wanted to play in the NBA, the league would never allow him to use a wheelchair to compete. Similarly, I don't see professional football or baseball offering assistance to a competitor along the same lines as Martin.
Golf is a different sport. Traditionalists do not want the game to be influenced by outside sources, like the court system. Understandably, they want to keep the game the same for everyone, no matter what. It's a gentlemen's game; people call their own rulings and penalize themselves as gentlemen -- at least, that's the way it is supposed to be.
Others think Martin is a different case, one so unusual that an exception should be made because it may never happen again. Some people may say, "Wait a second: This opens the door to someone else and to things we have not yet even thought about. With increases in technology, who knows where this can lead?" I don't fall into that camp.
Other than Martin, there is probably no one else capable of playing a professional sport with a disability. Martin is an extraordinary athlete to be able to compete with his disability. Because his leg is degenerating quickly, he only has a short window of time to compete using a cart, let alone being forced to walk.
Martin is a role model for everyone with his heart of a champion and his competitive will, to compete day after day with severe pain. On that level alone, I'm happy the ruling will allow Martin to compete, but I feel badly the case had to be fought in the courts and that another solution could not be reached.