The Intersection of Sports and Disability: Analyzing Reasonable Accommodations for Athletes with Disabilities

28 Pages Posted: 3 Jul 2014

See all articles by Maureen A. Weston

Maureen A. Weston

Pepperdine University - Rick J. Caruso School of Law

Date Written: 2005


When thinking about athletes participating in competitive or organized sports, typically the public rarely contemplates the inclusion of players with medical impairments or other physical, mental, and learning disabilities. Yet many athletes with disabilities, whether visible or hidden, have achieved success in both amateur and professional sports. The rights of athletes with medical impairments or disabilities to participate in competitive sports are also increasingly controversial. Because of a medical impairment or disability, some athletes cannot satisfy certain eligibility requirements set by the governing sporting organizations or they need accommodation in order to participate. Athletes who have been effectively excluded from sports participation because of a medical impairment or disability have invoked the stringent anti-discrimination standards of federal disability laws in asserting rights to participate and to reasonable modifications of eligibility standards in sports programs at the interscholastic, intercollegiate, and professional levels.

Federal disability laws have had and continue to have a significant impact in sports, raising complicated and controversial medico-legal questions surrounding the rights of individuals with disabilities to participate in athletics and the concomitant rights and obligations of the entities regulating athletic competition to set and enforce eligibility and safety rules. Many of the cases involving disability law in sports have garnered intense public attention, raising questions about the impact on the competitive nature of sports and the ability of sporting organizations to enforce rules of participation.

Keywords: competitive sports, intercollegiate sports, professional sports, disability, medical impairment, athletes with disabilities, federal disability laws, Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, ADA, Rehabilitation Act of 1973, disability-based discrimination, NCAA, student-athletes

Suggested Citation

Weston, Maureen A, The Intersection of Sports and Disability: Analyzing Reasonable Accommodations for Athletes with Disabilities (2005). St. Louis University Law Journal, Vol. 50, No. 137, 2005, Available at SSRN:

Maureen A Weston (Contact Author)

Pepperdine University - Rick J. Caruso School of Law ( email )

24255 Pacific Coast Highway
Malibu, CA 90263
United States

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