You may have noted that earlier this week I referred to the “DL” or “disabled list” instead of the “IL” or “injured list.” I’ve found it particularly hard to make this change. Not only because the term is older than me, but in my mind “IL” stands for the International League. Needless to say, I’ve been struggling with this issue for months. One question I have is, how do we refer to pre-2019 instances of a player being on the “DL”? Do we change our language and use “IL,” even if that was not the term used prior to 2019? Also, what effect does this have on the concept of “temporary disability”? – which may or may not be a legal concept, depending on who you ask.
As most people know, MLB changed the name of the disabled list to the injured list for this season. An article on Boston.com noted that the term “disabled list” was first used by The New York Times in 1887. The length of time the list covered has changed over the years. For example, a 10-day disabled list was added in 1966, removed in 1984, but restored in 2017. The 60-day DL was added in 1990, replacing the 21- and 30-day lists. Right now, we have the 7-day IL (for concussions only), the 10-day DL, and the 60-day DL, though in in 2020, the 15-day injured list will return, replacing the current 10-day IL. Players can also be considered “day-to-day,” if their injury or illness is not severe.
According to ESPN.com, the name change was made at the suggestion of advocacy groups for the disabled, including the Link 20 Network.” The Boston.com article seems to imply that the name was proposed solely by the Link20 Network, noting that “Link20, a group of young activists sponsored by the Ruderman foundation, sent a letter to MLB in November raising the issue.” According to the article, the letter stated: “’Using the term ‘disabled list’ for players who are injured reinforces the belief that people with disabilities are injured and therefore are not able to participate or compete in any sports.’” The Los Angeles Times noted that this change was also in keeping with other professional sports leagues that uses terms like “injured reserve.”
I’m all for being inclusive and ensuring disability rights, and I agree that an injury is not the same as a disability. However, injuries can lead to disabilities, and even temporary “disabilities” can be severe enough to impact one’s “major life activities” (see below). Thus, I wonder if this name change was necessary. (I also wonder how other disability rights organizations feel about this issue. If this change was made primarily at the suggestion of one organization, it would have been helpful for MLB to have some additional information, rather than being influenced by just one side of the story (assuming there are other sides)). One argument is that it is important to not conflate injuries with disabilities. But isn’t it also important to highlight that fact that disabilities can happen to anyone? Not being an individual with a disability or an expert on the issue, I don’t have an answer for any of these things I’ve been wondering.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) notes that in 2008, the Americans with Disabilities Act was amended to expand the definition of disability “in favor of broad coverage of individuals to the maximum extent permitted by the terms of the ADA…” In other words, the American with Disabilities Amendment Act of 2008 (ADAAA) sought to make it easier for individuals to seek protection under the law by allowing the term “disability” to be interpreted more broadly that it had been by the courts. Thus, for legal purposes, the ADAAA defines disability as:
- a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities (sometimes referred to in the regulations as an “actual disability”), or
- a record of a physical or mental impairment that substantially limited a major life activity (a “record of” having a disability), or
- when a covered entity takes an action prohibited by the ADA because of an actual or perceived impairment that is not both transitory and minor (“regarded as” having a disability).
While the law did not specifically discuss if or how temporary disabilities were covered, in 2014, the Fourth Circuit held that the ADAAA did, in fact, cover persons with temporary disabilities that are “severe.” While the issue may be far from decided, it leaves open the possibility that the types of injuries that substantially limit baseball players from performing their jobs may legally be considered “disabilities” even if they are temporary.
Ultimately, I’m happy to adopt whichever terminology is preferred by and most respectful of the disability community. I just want to be sure that the entire disability community has been consulted.
The larger issue here is that MLB keeps making changes, but it is unclear where these changes are coming from. Are they considering all sides in their decision-making? Or are they only listening to part of the story? Perhaps they are doing their due diligence, but it is not transparent to the fans.