Editorial by John Ziegler

It's Great that Casey has His Cart, But....

6/22/2001

Recently the U.S. Supreme Court made a lot of people very happy by declaring that the law requires the PGA Tour to allow disabled golfer Casey Martin to ride a cart during its competition. In some ways, this ruling was one of the most inconsequential in the court's storied history. In other aspects, this was also one of the court's most misunderstood, misreported, poorly thought out, and downright dangerous decisions in recent memory.

At first glance, it would be difficult to imagine a judgment that would have less impact on American society than this one. After all, the domain was golf, which, even in the era of Tiger Woods, is still seen by most of the public as an elitist and irrelevant endeavor (many do not even refer to it as a sport). Add to this the reality that Casey Martin already HAD his cart, probably would have still been allowed to ride even if he had lost the case, and is not even currently qualified to play on the PGA Tour, and it is easy to wonder what all the fuss has been about. Sure, Casey Martin himself is a great and inspiring story, but legally his case would not seem destined for a prominent place in the annals of the history of law. What could be the possible the harm in allowing a courageous and likeable fellow like Martin to ride a cart while playing against the spoiled brats of the PGA Tour? Who could be against that?

Well, I am against that.

Personally, I like Casey Martin. I am glad that he has his cart. The PGA Tour should probably have allowed him to ride a long time ago. However, as is so often the case, I believe this is a situation where a great case has made for some very bad law that we may soon come to regret.

Poorly informed press reports seemed to imply that the crux of the Martin case was whether or not this young golfer who is badly hobbled by a gruesome genetic condition somehow gains an ADVANTAGE over other golfers by riding a cart. The REAL issues, however, to be decided by the Supreme Court were whether walking is fundamental to the game of golf and whether the PGA Tour had the authority to make and enforce its own rules. The court found that the answer to both of those questions was in the negative, and that the Americans with Disabilities Act requires that the Tour do whatever necessary to allow a disabled golfer to compete on a level playing field.

Writing for the majority, Justice John Paul Stevens (allegedly an "avid" golfer, but his physique would indicate that he hasn't walked too many courses himself recently) declared that golf was a game of "shot making" and not of walking, and that Martin would likely be at least as tired riding a cart as any of his competitors would be while walking. While Justice Stevens is correct in these assertions, I believe the conclusions to which he (and the six who voted with him) jumped are severely flawed.

If walking is not "fundamental" to the game of golf, then why is it that I still see plenty of video clips of Casey Martin limping around the course, even when he has his cart? If at least SOME walking cannot be eliminated from golf (because there are many places that a cart can not get to), is walking not then, by definition, "fundamental" to golf? Despite what those who like to diminish golf as just a game for out of shape white guys (have they SEEN a tournament in the last 10-15 years?) would like to think, walking up and down hills for a least five hours a day in usually hot weather can, in fact, make a HUGE difference in a golf tournament. As an amateur golfer who is required to walk while playing 36 holes in one day in several tournaments a year, I can tell you that there can be an ENORMOUS mental and physical difference between walking and riding. When the margin between winning and losing can be as subtle as weakened legs causing a slight loss in distance and timing, or the quickening of a pulse rate over a four foot putt, it is easy to see why walking is indeed a "fundamental" part of the game.

Far more disturbing than the court's ignorant ruling that walking is not an integral part of golf, was this activist court's overreach into the authority of a sports organization to keep its own rules. Justice Antonin Scalia correctly observed in the minority opinion that the ADA was never intended to give any court such "ridiculous" authority. What the court essentially held is that playing golf on the PGA Tour is just like being a customer at a business that must accommodate the disabled. This decision makes almost no allowance for the concept of a competition. Casey Martin is not a "customer" of the PGA Tour. He is a privately contracted employee who (despite what those in the press who have grossly and incorrectly compared this fight to the Tour's old and unjust "Caucasian Only" clause imply) has EVERY right to compete under the same rules as everyone else. With this decision, the court has ruled that the disabled are required by law to be given special privileges in order to "even out" competitions, and has dictated to private associations that they no longer have the power to set their own regulations.

Even without considering what OTHER rules of golf the Supreme Court might find objectionable (stroke AND distance penalty for out of bounds? UNCONSTITUTIONAL!!), the mind truly boggles when it contemplates all of the possible ramifications of this wrong-headed and shortsighted decision. Because the court (as well as the ADA) so poorly defined "disability," it would seem only a matter of time before many ailments far less worthy than Martin's begin to be deemed fitting of that definition. (Would the Supreme Court considering "slicing" to be a disability? Probably not, since that would HELP those that go too far to the "right.")

That development likely won't be limited to golf, either. What is to keep a "disabled" Olympic Biathlete (that winter sport where rifle shooters travel from shooting range to shooting range by skiing cross-country) from requesting a snow mobile? From sports, I fear this virus of governmental intervention will likely spread elsewhere with no vaccine available to stop it until it finally infects the core of freedom that once defined this nation.

While most of us seemed to have forgotten (especially seven liberals among us who currently sit on the Supreme Court), there is good reason that we were founded as a "nation of laws." The law is not intended to bend simply because our emotions tell us that it would FEEL so much better if, just in this one case, things were different. The law is there to protect us from our own human frailties that, left unchecked, will eventually allow us to destroy the best of what we have created. In the end, the Casey Martin saga was the Ellian Gonzalez case of golf, where the circumstances were so truly unique as to likely never again be duplicated and where we allowed our emotions to overrule our reason. Fortunately, our nation is strong enough to survive such frivolous lapses in judgment, but for how much longer will that still be true?

This summer, as Martin taps the brakes on his cart while he slides down a hill during a rainy day, he will be giving new meaning to the term, "slippery slope." While I will be rooting for him personally, I will also be hoping that we can somehow find a way to put a "brake lock" on the trend that he now represents, and which sadly seems almost irreversible.

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