If you regularly checkout my blog here or read my book Off Balanced, you know I possess a great passion for baseball. As a result I naturally enjoy news stories about inclusion on little league teams. I came across one such story last week. New York NBC Channel 4 News reported on 12-year old Evan Sussman who despite not actually playing on the field remains a member of the Brewster Little League team.
Sussman, like his teammates, suits up for every game. Sussman, like his teammates, sits in the dugout. Sussman, like his teammates, contributes. Sure, the 12-year old doesn’t field balls or step into the batter’s box. Instead Evan Sussman contributes to the team atmosphere with his spirit. Sadly, rules and regulations recently threatened the Brewster team’s inclusive atmosphere.
According to the rulebook a player must play 60% of the games to become eligible to sit inside the dugout. Since Sussman didn’t literally play, his presence supposedly presents a liability. I voiced my personal frustration with the rule via the following tweet.
I tweeted my frustration with the Sussman story July 24.
Frustration appeared a common response to the news story and two days later I discovered a followup report about Sussman completed by ABC 7 News. Thankfully those who regulate the little league organization decided to grant Sussman and the Brewster Little League team an exemption to the previously mentioned rule. In other words Evan Sussman rejoined his teammates inside the dugout , returning everything back to Brewster’s normal inclusive way.
A few days ago I read this story from The Sacramento Bee, “Disabled Student Sues to Play High School Baseball.” The story talks about high school student David Barker suing his high school so he can play junior varsity baseball. According to the article Barker is deaf and has cerebral palsy but has played baseball since he was nine years old, including playing for his school’s freshman baseball team. Yet school officials informed David he couldn’t play at the junior varsity level. The following reader comment from tobeetobee really grabbed my attention and motivated today’s post-
“Yeah right…like every student gets to be on the team because they want to be on it…”
Two other readers liked this comment. Personally the statement disturbs me because the thinking infers athletes with disabilities can’t have talent. To anyone who wants to argue with me I can make a strong case with one name, Jim Abbott. Are you getting ready to ask, “Who is Jim Abbott?” Let me waste no time on educating you. Jim Abbott pitched in the major leagues from 1989 to 1999, compiling a career 87-108 record and 4.25 ERA. He finished fifth in the AL Rookie of the Year voting in his initial major league season and placed third in the AL Cy Young Award voting during the 1991 season. (Click here for more statistics) Jim Abbott accomplished all this despite being born with a deformed right arm. Rick Swaine describes the deformity on behalf of Society for American Baseball Research (SABR).
“Abbott’s right arm ends about where his wrist should be. He doesn’t have a right hand, just a loose flap of skin at the end of his underdeveloped arm.”
Born without a right hand retired MLB pitcher Jim Abbott defied possibilities. Photo: Paul Morse/Wikimedia Commons
Reading Swaine’s SABR biography on Jim Abbott reveals Abbott enjoyed success on every level of baseball he played despite skepticism surfacing Abbott would become outmatched by his competition. A decade in the majors goes to show the skeptics wrong. Now, I’ll admit majority of athletes with disabilities will likely fail to rival Abbott’s talent but the least we can do as a society is give athletes with disabilities the opportunity to fail. So to bring this post full circle, I hope we can judge David Barker by his skills as a baseball player and not the label “disabled athlete.”