Law & Policy: Governing Bodies
- Agency Will Address U.S. Olympic Team Abuse Claims
by Stephen Meyers September 2016
U.S. Olympic Committee CEO Scott Blackmun says a new resource to better protect athletes will be transformational in preventing cases of sexual abuse and streamlining the reporting process. Olympic sports organizations starting next year will forward reports of sexual misconduct to an outside agency -- a sweeping change intended to better protect athletes.
- NBA, NBPA Preparing for Anthem Protests
by Jason Scott September 2016
Colin Kaepernick’s continued demonstration during the national anthem has picked up momentum. Beyond other NFL players, the protests have picked up supporters at the high school level and have even crossed into other sports.
- What Constitutes Reasonable Para-Athlete Accommodation?
by John Wolohan September 2016
This article appeared in the September issue of Athletic Business. Athletic Business is a free magazine for professionals in the athletic, fitness and recreation industry. Click here to subscribe.
Twenty-five years after the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), high school athletic associations and individual schools are still grappling with the law and its impact on prep sports. A good example of the dilemmas these groups face when addressing the issue of para-athletes competing in high school sports is K.L. v. Missouri State High School Activities Association, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 47621.
K.L., a student at Troy-Buchanan High School (TBHS) in Troy, Mo., was born with a venous malformation involving her left leg — a condition, known as "Bockenheimer's Syndrome," that required the surgical removal of her left leg above the knee in 2011. This has not slowed her down, however. K.L. is still very active in athletics and is returning for her fourth year as a member of the TBHS track team, using a racing chair in 100-, 200- and 400-meter events. In addition, she competes in sled hockey and triathlon at the regional and national levels with other para-athletes.
Despite K.L.'s active participation in high school track, Missouri State High School Activities Association (MSHSAA) rules do not allow K.L. or her team to earn any team points for her results. K.L. petitioned the MSHSAA to award her and her team points when she competes against all high schools — with and without para-athletes — arguing that her inability to earn team points "sometimes" made her feel that she is "not a part of the team" and "excluded."
SEVEN IN 25,000
In rejecting her request, the MSHSAA argued that adoption of K.L.'s demands to create new district, sectional and state championship competition for adaptive events in which para-athletes compete head-to-head — including creation of new operating standards, new qualifying standards, new point scoring against teams without para-athletes and new meet management requirements — would fundamentally alter the MSHSAA track and field program. In support of this conclusion, MSHSAA stated that approximately 25,000 students currently participate in MSHSAA track and field competition. Of this number, only seven students statewide — four females and three males — sought participation in adaptive events for para-athletes for the 2015-16 track and field season.
In seeking a court order forcing the MSHSAA to change its current rules and scoring system, K.L. claimed that the current rules and system violated both Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and Title II of the ADA. Because the rights under the ADA are the same as under the Rehabilitation Act, the courts apply the same principles to both laws. The Rehabilitation Act states that: "No otherwise qualified handicapped individual in the United States, ... shall solely by reason of his handicap, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance ..." (29 U.S.C. § 794).
In determining if someone is otherwise qualified for an activity, the courts have held that while an organization is not required to make fundamental or substantial modifications to accommodate an individual's disability, it may be required to make reasonable ones. K.L. alleged that MSHSAA denied her benefits of its programs and activities "by refusing to make reasonable modifications to its track and field program."
WHAT IS REASONABLE?
In rejecting K.L.'s arguments, the court found that by definition, accommodations are not reasonable if they impose undue financial and administrative burdens or if they require a fundamental alteration in the nature of the program. Not only was K.L. seeking to earn team points, but to have those points assessed against teams that do not have any para-athletes in their school or on their team. The court held that K.L.'s requested modifications would constitute "affirmative action" relief — not cognizable under Section 504 or Title II of the ADA — to create new operating standards, new qualifying standards, new point scoring and new state championship competition for K.L. that do not currently exist.
In particular, the court found that K.L. and her team would be afforded unequal and preferential treatment against teams without para-athletes who will have their accomplishments altered by an unfair and inequitable distribution of points they have no chance to earn without para-athletes. The court found that if K.L's high school team had been advantaged with 40 points from four first-place finishes as the only competitor in four events during these state track meets, her team would have been advantaged over teams without para-athletes and elevated from 50th to 5th place in 2013, from 23rd to 3rd place in 2014 and from 34th to 6th place in 2015.
As more para-athletes seek to compete in high school sports, the court's decision in K.L. v. Missouri State High School Activities Association provides a number of important lessons to schools and state athletic associations. First, it is important to note that under the ADA and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act organizations must make reasonable modifications to their rules to accommodate individuals with disabilities. What is reasonable is a question for the courts, but as long as the requested accommodations do not require fundamental modifications, organizations should be willing to alter programs to accommodate individuals with disabilities.
Second, what might seem unreasonable in one situation today might be reasonable in another. For example, if instead of seven para-athletes, there were 700 statewide, the court would more than likely have found the modifications requested to be reasonable. Therefore, it is essential that organizations conduct a case-by-case review when developing and operating fair and equitable statewide programs.
Attorney John Wolohan is a professor of sports law in the David B. Falk College for Sport and Human Dynamics and College of Law at Syracuse University.
This article originally appeared in the September 2016 issue of Athletic Business with the title "Is high school para-athlete's accommodation request reasonable?"
- Opinion: Soften BYU Honor Code for Big 12 Inclusion
by Gordon Monson September 2016
Here's the truth about what BYU can do to make itself more attractive to the presidents of the Big 12, increasing its chances for inclusion in the conference and making its position more acceptable. Not just acceptable to those outside its community, but those inside it, too: Soften the language in its honor code. Leave some parts out and administer the remaining parts with a little more kindness and understanding.
- Pasadena in Plans for LA's 2024 Olympic Bid
by Jason Henry September 2016
If the Olympics return to Los Angeles for a third time in 2024, Pasadena may once again share in the spotlight. The Los Angeles 2024 Exploratory Committee or LA24, as it is called, has proposed playing seven Olympic soccer matches at the Rose Bowl. The City Council and LA24 negotiated the terms behind closed doors Sept. 12, but on Monday, the council delayed giving an official green light because of some absent council members.
- Louisiana High School Fights Recruiting Allegations
by Jim Halley September 2016
LHSAA executive director Eddie Bonine ruled that because John Curtis Christian School assistant coach Jerry Godfrey allowed a player to live with his family, that constituted recruitment because it helped the school retain the player.
- AAC Commissioner Calm in Face of Potential Poaching
by Jim Fuller September 2016
Perhaps there is a part of Mike Aresco want to scream at the top of his lungs for the Power 5 conferences to stop poaching the teams away. However, Aresco has chosen to take a different tactic. He understands the financial impact of programs landing in the Power 5 conference and realizes that it is in the best interest of AAC programs like Houston, Cincinnati and UConn to do whatever it can to receive an invitation to join the Big 12. Before Saturday's UConn/Virginia game, Aresco met with the media and addressed his leadership philosophy during this most difficult time for the conference.
- Padres GM Suspended by MLB for Hiding Medical Info
by Knoxville News-Sentinel September 2016
Major League Baseball on Thursday announced a 30-day suspension without pay for San Diego Padres general manager A.J. Preller. The punishment was levied as the result of an investigation into the Padres’ handling of medical information in the July 14 trade that sent left-hander Drew Pomeranz to the Boston Red Sox.
- KSHSAA Committee Lays Out Classification Proposals
by Brent Maycock September 2016
It's been the hot-button issue across Kansas for years, at least when it comes to high school athletics in the state. Classifications. Technically, the Kansas State High School Activities Association's member schools are divided into six classifications, 1A through 6A. But with Class 1A splitting to two divisions in 2010 and Class 4A following suit in 2013, the number of state championships awarded in football, basketball, volleyball, baseball and softball grew. The question became when would it stop and was the current format the best option for the state? "In my former job as (USD 259) district athletic director, I was on a board of peers, the (KSHSAA) executive board, the KIAAA - it came up all the time," said Bill Faflick, assistant superintendant of the Wichita public schools. "You hear it again and again."
- NFL Announces $100M Brain Health Donation
by Bob Glaube September 2016
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell announced Wednesday that the league will commit $100 million toward brain health, and stressed in an interview with NBC's Matt Lauer that the league is deeply concerned about the health and well-being of its players. "I've been in this game for 35 years," Goodell told Lauer. "I've known players. I care about our players. I respect what they do on and off the field. I know our players. I care about our players. Some of them, I've known for 30 years."