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Outside the Lines: Casey Martin's Battle to Ride

Host - Bob Ley, ESPN.
Reporter- Scott Walker, ESPN.
Guests - Ford Olinger, pro golfer also seeking to use a cart; Chris Bell and Chai Feldbum, attorneys who wrote the Americans with Disabilities Act .
Coordinating producer - Jonathan Ebinger, ESPN.

Bob Ley, Host- This week, the U.S. Supreme Court hears a case involving one thing.

Phil Mickelson, Professional Golfer- The perfect scenario would be for the tour to win and grant an exception for Casey to ride a cart.

Hal Sutton, Professional Golfer- I know he has a physical handicap. But at the same time, he's not going to end up as tired as everybody else.

Ley- Does Casey Martin have the right to a cart on the PGA tour?

Casey Martin, Professional Golfer- They need to comply with what the United States government says. And they say for people with disabilities, you need to make accommodation.

Ley- Even golf's best can't figure out where they stand.

Tiger Woods, Professional Golfer- I can't be rational about this decision just because I have feelings. And my emotions are with Casey.

Ley- Today on Outside The Lines, what are the rights of disabled athletes? Casey Martin and his fight against the PGA tour.

Announcer- Outside The Lines is presented by State Farm Insurance. Joining us from ESPN Studios, Bob Ley.

Ley- This past week, a new statute of Franklin Roosevelt was unveiled at the FDR Memorial, a statue that had been at the center of a six-year controversy involving disability rights advocates.

The life-size statute shows FDR in a wheelchair. Now this Wednesday, about one mile from that statue, Casey Martin's case, his fight for a golf cart, will be heard by the United States Supreme Court.

Twice in federal court, Martin has won the right to ride a cart in PGA Tour events. For the tour, this is a public relations nightmare, the last thing it needs as Tiger Woods continues to expand the sport's popularity and reach.

Casey Martin clearly is a sympathetic figure to the general public and an attractive one for disabled advocates, a 28-year-old golf pro with a chronically painful degenerative condition that is causing his right leg to atrophy.

Yesterday, Martin missed the cut at the Tucson Open as he heads towards a season on pro golf's second level tour. His court case is based on a landmark civil rights law, the 11-year-old Americans With Disabilities Act.

Martin is a plainspoken young man rarely comfortable talking about his fight to ride between shots. And as Scott Walker reports, this case may reach far beyond the golf course as Casey Martin would simply like to play in a minimum of pain.

Unidentified male- Casey Martin.

Martin- Certainly, I read the press clippings that come out that it's not about me, per se, but it's about their right to make the rules. And I understand that. But at the same time, it is about me.

Unidentified male- Tomorrow is going to be a very fun day to watch.

Martin- This is where I want to be. I have a passion to play golf. When I wake up, I want to work on my game. And so I'm grateful that I still have that opportunity.

Scott Walker, ESPN Correspondent(voice-over)- All Casey Martin wanted was to play golf. But in the three years since he first brought suit against the PGA Tour seeking the use of a cart in competition, Martin has struggled with his game, losing his PGA Tour card after just one season.

He has struggled through the pain of a rare circulatory disorder that could take his right leg. He has also struggled under the public scrutiny spawned from his constant court battles. Since that initial court victory, only portions of Casey Martin's ride have been smooth.

Martin- I just try to blow it off and focus. And what I have to do is play golf and enjoy the golf while I can.

Walker- How long Martin retains this opportunity depends on the answers given by the U.S. Supreme Court on two fundamental questions. The first issue, according to Law Professor Jane Korn, is clearly defining public accommodations in the Americans With Disabilities Act.

Jane Korn, University of Arizona- Well, if the Supreme Court holds that the PGA is a place of public accommodation, it seems to me that disabled athletes around the country will have a stronger argument that they need to be reasonably accommodated and they have a rightful place in competitive sports.

Walker- The second aspect of the case involves the concept of reasonable accommodation. Two lower courts decided the use of a cart was a reasonable accommodation for Martin. The PGA Tour contends that walking interjects the element of fatigue into championship golf.

That would mean Martin's use of a cart fundamentally alters competition, a point the tour must prove to the Supreme Court to overturn Martin's earlier victories. It is the same argument they've used the last three years.

Tim Finchem, PGA Tour Commissioner- We have the highest regard for Casey Martin. But frankly, we don't think this case is about Casey Martin. We think this case is about whether or not a sports organization like the PGA Tour should be able to make its own rules.

Walker (voice-over)- The tour issued a statement last week on the appeal, which said a fundamental premise of sport is that all competitors play under one set of rules.

David Duvall, Professional Golfer- It's like something you don't really even question in the NFL or Major League Baseball or anything else. They makes their own rules. They set up and play by their rules. And if an organization loses that ability, I don't know where it stops then.

Martin- They have the right to make their rules. But they need to comply with what the United States government says. And they say for people with disabilities, you need to make accommodation. And they simply refuse to do that.

Walker- What the PGA Tour itself has constantly said is, "We need the right, we need to continue the right to make our own rules." Should they lose this case, should they lose that right?

Korn- No. I think saying that they're losing the right is overstating it just a little because reasonable accommodations have to be determined on an individualized basis on a case by case basis. And so therefore deciding that Mr. Martin is entitled to this and that in his case this is a reasonable accommodation really does not decide that question for any other golfer.

Sutton- The fact of the matter is it's still an advantage for Casey to be able to ride. I mean, when it's 105 degrees outside and everybody else is walking, I know he has a physical handicap, but at the same time he's not going to end up as tired as everybody else.

Unidentified male- Watch how hard this swing is.

Martin- It doesn't take a great effort to walk a golf course. The reason Tiger is so great and why he's the best athlete right now in any sport is because of how he's mastered his skills. I mean, he's absolutely the greatest. And it has nothing to do -- I've never heard a competitor saying, "Tiger is so great. Look at him walk." It's not part of the game.

Walker- Kevin Szott, a gold medallist in the 2000 Paralympics, agrees.

Kevin Szott, 2000 Paralympics Gold Medallist in Judo- What are you afraid of? What is the fear factor in allowing disabled people with reasonable accommodations to compete?

Walker- Whatever the Supreme Court decides, the ruling could have great impact on other professional sports. Both the men's tennis tour and the LPGA have filed briefs with the court supporting the PGA Tour's claim that sports organizations should have the final authority on setting up competitive standards.

(on camera)- Wouldn't this open up a Pandora's box in all sports to change the landscape of competition?

Martin- I don't think so.

Walker- Why?

Martin- Because there aren't that many people with disabilities playing professional sports. I mean, think about it. There's not too many people certainly with my condition that are going to try to play in the NBA or the NFL. They can't do it. Golf is one sport where you can make accommodations for people.

Szott- I think you have to be able to form essential duties. You can't bring the rim down to eight feet. You can't say you can't dribble at a certain speed or that you have to throw the ball at a certain speed or have a bigger ball so a person like myself of limited vision could see it. I don't think you can change the essential duties of the game.

Mickelson- I think that the perfect scenario would be for the tour to win and grant an exception for Casey to ride a cart. But I've heard that that's not going to happen. And so I find myself in a very difficult position not knowing which side to really pull for.

Walker- What if you lose? What happens?

Martin- If I lost, obviously my first appeal would be to the tour, just one last chance to see if they'd still be willing to let me ride even after this situation. If they refused, then it wouldn't look that good on the short term for my golf because physically my leg just isn't in a position right now to start walking.

But you never know. Maybe if they were to take it away, maybe I'd get some help, my leg, down the line. You never know. For all intents and purposes, this would probably be the end of my career if I don't get the cart.

Walker- The court will likely take several months to issue a ruling. The PGA Tour insists none of this would be necessary if judges and justices left decisions on the fundamental aspects of sports to the sports themselves. But as Professor Korn suggests, while the courts are not perfect, the law gives them final authority to make those decisions.

For Outside The Lines, I'm Scott Walker.

Ley- And when we continue, I'll be speaking with two attorneys who helped to draft the Americans With Disabilities Act but have different views of Casey Martin's case, and also a Professional Golfer involved in the very same fight as Casey Martin.

Ley- Joining us this morning from Minneapolis, Attorney Chris Bell. He helped to write the Americans With Disabilities Act. Chris Bell is an attorney. He has been blind for 30 years.

Chai Feldblum is a professor of law at Georgetown University. She also helped to draft the ADA. She joins us from Washington, DC.

Ford Olinger is a pro golfer who has waged a legal battle virtually identical to Casey Martin's. Ford suffers from a degenerative hip disease. He lost his federal appeal last summer.

We should also note that the PGA Tour declined our invitation to participate in today's program.

Chris, let me begin with you. The PGA Tour is not here. But you share their view. Why do you think they may have a winner in this case at the Supreme Court level?

Chris Bell, Attorney- I do, Bob. Personally as a disabled person, I hope that Casey can win. And I hope that Ford gets to play. But I hope the PGA has a better argument.

And for me, it comes down to two things. The first is that professional competitive sports inherently discriminates in favor of ability and against disability. You're looking for the people that can run the fastest, jump the highest, make the most shots, make the best shots.

And that means that there are going to be a group of people who, because of medical conditions, can't compete successfully or at all. And I don't think the ADA was intended to address that kind of situation.

Ley- But there is law, Chai. And it's there in black and white.

Chai Feldblum, Georgetown University Law Center- Yes. And actually, I agree with Chris that competition often discriminates appropriately against people with disabilities. We're not talking here about Casey Martin getting the hole moved up 30 feet.

He's asking for an accommodation for something that is not essential to the competition. The PGA can't just say it is essential and we all go home. The point about disability law is to force whether it's a sports entity or a restaurant to explain why it is that they're still doing things the way they've always done it when that's going to exclude a person with a disability.

Bell- See, I don't think it is as simple to say what is essential. For example, a person with a lung disease that fatigues more easily who is playing in the National Basketball Association might say, "Gee, I'd do better because of my lung disease if we shortened the game by 10 minutes."

That doesn't affect the essential aspect of basketball. And yet if Casey Martin's argument wins, that kind of argument could be made.

What about the golfer who has become allergic to grass? Does he or she get to say, "Well, I can't play on grass anymore. But how about if we use Astroturf?" I don't know where it ends.

Ley- Let me bring Ford in just for a second, Ford, because at one of your hearings Ken Venturi testified for the PGA Tour, did he not, about the stamina required in recounting his 1964 U.S. Open victory.

Ford Olinger, Professional Golfer- Yeah. Ken testified at my South Bend case that it was essential for him, and he was walking in 1964 during the Open. And he said that the heat factor was a major factor for him.

Casey and myself, we're not asking that you alter the course or anything like that. And I think Casey and myself feel that it's the art of shot making, not change the golf course, change the holes for us.

We're just asking, we need transportation to get to and from the shot. We can perform the shots with everyone else.

You were saying something about a gentleman that has a hard time breathing playing in the NBA. Well, that's fine. But he still has to shoot at the basket. And Casey and me still have to shoot at the golf hole.

Ley- Well, Ford, I'm sure you were watching the Mercedes Championship. And let's roll on a piece of tape. Chris, I'll describe it for you. It's between holes eight and nine as the golfers -- and this is Tiger Woods getting into a sponsor's minivan and being shuttled from the eighth to the ninth -- from the eighth green to the ninth hole. They also use a cart at this tournament for every golfer to bring him up a very hilly mountainous fourth hole.

And I understand in Tucson this past week, the tournament at which Casey Martin was competing, there was actually a cart used as well. So when you see something like that, Ford, what goes through your mind?

Olinger- Well, what goes through my mind is, "What's going on here? You tell us one thing. And then in the first tournament of the year, you're doing something else."

Ley- Chris, inconsistency there?

Bell- Well, it may be. I agree with the PGA that everybody should play on the same playing field under the same rules. I don't think that means the PGA necessarily has a license to create discriminatory rules.

But I do think it's a problem if people play under different conditions because that raises the issue, does the person that had the lowest number of strokes in a golf game where the difference between the number one person and the number two person is one stroke is the fact that one person, the winner, used the cart an influence? It raises the issue of whether the outcome has been affected. And that's why I think it's a problem to have different rules for different players.

Olinger- Chris, if I could say something, if that's true, then the PGA Tour, the governing body, also handles the senior tour. Why do they give the senior tour players an option you can ride or you can walk?

Feldblum- And just to add on to that, obviously in the seniors tour, they're giving everyone the option to ride or to walk. And you know what? All the tournaments that you have to go through in order to qualify, it's the same thing. They give you the option to use a cart or to walk.

And funny, most golfers actually decide that they want to walk because they like that better. There is no way that Casey Martin or Ford Olinger is going to have a competitive advantage by using the cart. Both of them would trade using the cart for not having the disabilities they have that cause the fatigue.

The question here, and this is the essence of disability law, disability law is not about making people change the essence of the game just like it's not about changing the essence of a job. It's not. The law doesn't change how you absolutely do the essence.

It does say if someone can play the game of golf, you should let them play the game of golf and not say, "Oh, we want to have this rule that everyone has to walk," when that's not essential. And it would be easy for the PGA to say, "You know what? Everyone gets to either walk or use the cart."

Ley- We'll pick up right there.

Feldblum- And that's all that the law says.

Ley- All right, let's take a break. We'll pick up right there and look at some of the other leagues and organizations that filed briefs in this case. They have an interest as this case goes to the Supreme Court on Wednesday.

We'll continue with the Casey Martin case as it goes to the Supreme Court in just a moment.

Ley- We continue discussing the Casey Martin case with Chris Bell, Chai Feldblum, and Ford Olinger.

Chris, let me pick up with you. There have been amicus briefs, which are the briefs, friends of the court, that have been filed in support of the PGA Tour by the USGA and the LPGA and even the Association of Tennis Professionals, the men's professional tennis group. Do these groups have legitimate concerns about losing their sovereignty, their right to make their own rules?

Bell- Oh, absolutely they do because the principle at issue, as I say, is whether or not sports have to change even, to use Chai's word, in a nonessential way, but in a way that nonetheless would affect the game. I'd like Chai to answer me whether shortening the length of an NBA basketball game by 10 minutes affects in her view the essence of it.

I don't think it does. But I don't think the ADA was intended to do that even though that might help some folks with disabilities.

Ley- Does that analogy work, Chai?

Feldblum- Well, actually I think shortening by 10 minutes will in fact change the essence of the game. And the point of the matter is that we're not actually trying to get people to change the essence of the competition. But it is true, to your question about other leagues, it does make them have to stop, think, and justify something that in fact keeps someone with a disability out.

And you know what? It's fantastic to actually see someone with a disability in professional sports. As Ford said, you're not going to see a lot of people with severe respiratory illnesses playing in the NBA even the game before the 10 minutes.

It is unusual to have a game where the part of the game where they're testing the physical ability can be separated from other disabilities. In my mind, let's celebrate that, and let's help that. But no, you're never going to change the essence of the game. And you shouldn't.

Ley- Ford, if a cart is an advantage to Casey, it's hard to tell from the way he's been playing lately. He missed the cut by six. He lost his tour card last year.

Olinger- Yeah, that's the thing. I kind of laugh a little bit when people say that we've got such a great advantage. If that was true, we'd be talking about Casey Martin every day and seeing Casey all over the television instead of Tiger Woods.

Some of the pro golfers that I've talked to, they've pretty much told me, "If you need a cart, go ahead and bring it on out. But I do believe I'm still going to beat you."

Ley- What about the slippery slope, Chai? You teach at law school. I'm sure that's something you deal with law students. Martin wins, OK. He wins. Then the next guy line. Then the next guy in line. What happens then?

Feldblum- Well, what happens -- actually, there aren't going to be that many cases. In other words...

Ley- Well, we're talking to another gentleman here this morning who is in the same situation.

Feldblum- ... Oh, yes. No, no, no, there will absolutely -- well, no, because once it's clear that someone with that disability gets to use a cart, you just changed the norm. And then the PGA and the LPGA says, "You get to use a cart. We're going to have the same rules of everyone. You get to use a cart or you walk." And then those folks use a cart.

You see, the fact is that sports and competition is different from a lot of other things that the ADA covers. And in a lot of other situations, people with disabilities will win often because when you go to a restaurant or to a video store, they're not testing your physical capability.

Sports is one of those areas where people with disabilities will not win very often because what's being tested is exactly what they can't do. It will be some of those cases where there are requirements on the margin that are excluding them from the game. And you know what? There just aren't that many of those issues.

Ley- And you don't see this, Chris, as being on the margin? You see this as being central.

Bell- No I don't. I see this as potentially creating a lot of lawsuits. I mean, I can tell you as a defense lawyer for Jackson Lewis (ph), a nationwide employment law defense firm, that we see hundreds and thousands of ADA charges and hundreds of ADA lawsuits that we handle that are absolutely meritless.

For example, in the employment arena, somebody sues because they only want good evaluations because poor evaluations provide them with stress. Or they want a new boss. People will always test the envelope and push the envelope. And it's not going to be any different in sports that it is in employment.

Ley- You pushing the envelope...

Feldblum- Yeah, but you know...

Ley- ... go ahead, Chai.

Feldblum- ... The thing is, I completely agree with Chris that there are lots of meritless cases, cases that are brought under the ADA that don't have merit. The irony is that Casey Martin case is not one of those.

This is exactly the type of case that the ADA was intended to help. So why would we say no to this person because we're afraid of the 1,000 cases of people who are bringing meritless cases? That's not the way to run a system of law. You take each case on its merits.

Ley- Ford, the appellate judges who heard your cases included some golfers. That didn't help you, did it?

Olinger- Not really. As I understand it, Casey's judges, they were not golfers. And they looked strictly at the ADA issues. And as I understand it, all my judges were avid golfers.

And I read the brief that was issued by the Supreme Appellate Court up in Chicago. And the gentleman that wrote it was very familiar with golf and the history of golf. So it was quite interesting.

Ley- And what does that say, Chai, if an avid golfer, a federal appellate judge, knowing the sport and knowing the law comes down against Ford?

Feldblum- Well, actually I think it shows that someone who is like maybe into the sport feels something more a connection and can't sit back and actually do the law correctly. I think we've seen that sometimes, courts getting a little too involved personally.

They are human beings. And then maybe sometimes they don't apply the law correctly in that type of situation. We'll have to see what the Supreme Court says.

Ley- In one sentence, Chris, what will the ruling be do you think?

Bell- I don't think it's a good sign for Casey that the Supreme Court wanted to hear the case. I think he'll lose. I don't know on which argument. But I think the case could be very important not only for sports, but also for other areas that the ADA applies to, such as employment.

Ley- OK, we're out of time. Thanks so much to Chris Bell and to Chai Feldblum and to Ford Olinger.

Ford, best of luck in your pursuit of your pro career. We appreciate you being with us this morning.

Next, we'll have details of an upcoming chat on this very topic as we continue Outside The Lines.

Ley- Outside The Lines is online at Go to our ESPN homepage. The keyword to type in is otlweekly. And you'll be taken to our complete library of program transcripts and streaming video of all our Sunday morning programs. And we welcome your e-mails, your comments, suggestions, and criticisms,

Ford Olinger will be joining us online for a chat tomorrow. He'll take your questions about his case and the Casey Martin matter. Follow the link from the ESPN front page. Ford Olinger chatting at, 1-00 p.m. Eastern on Monday.

Ley- A reminder that this program on the Casey Martin matter re-airs over on ESPN2 at 12-30 Eastern, 9-30 Pacific. And the final round of the Mercedes Championship from Kapalua tonight, 8-00 Eastern here on ESPN. "SportsCenter" in 30 minutes. "NFL Countdown," a conference championship edition, in 60 minutes.

Now to the ESPN Zone at Times Square, Dick Schaap and "The Sports Reporters."

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 ESPN's Bob Ley takes a look at Casey Martin's battle for the right to ride a golf cart.
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