People with Disabilities in Professional Sports


When I first heard about the Arizona Diamondbacks drafting Cory Hahn in the 34th round of the 2013 MLB draft, I thought it was, and still is, an incredible gesture from a classy organization. 

Hahn was a freshman standout at Arizona State University before he became paralyzed after injuring himself during a head-first slide into second base. With this move, he has a real shot at having a career in baseball.

I've gone back and forth a bunch of times about writing this, but I decided that this topic was too important to ignore. 

As many of you read this, I'm sure you are saying to yourself, "This is just some jealous journalist wannabe spouting nonsense." So before I continue, yes, there are some jealous feelings on my part as I heard about the opportunity given to Hahn. But this issue goes way beyond me and my personal feelings. 

Over the past few years, we have seen injured athletes like Hahn and former Rutgers football player Eric LeGrand in the media spotlight. 

The world was captivated as they watched their injuries occur and followed them along their road to recovery. During their rehabilitation, these athletes gained support from celebrities and everyday people alike and even became celebrities in their own right. In LeGrand's case, he's given a speech at the ESPYs, been in commercials and even was drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers of the NFL. 

But for every Cory Hahn or Eric LeGrand, there are millions of people with disabilities who fight the same struggles, but will never be in the spotlight. Like Hahn or LeGrand, they have dreams about becoming a part of the sports world, but that notion is closer to being a dream than becoming a reality. 

My power soccer teammate, Jordan Dickey, is a huge sports fan. His sports knowledge can possibly rival that of many of the general managers in the sports world. Because of his incredible passion for sports, he is pursuing a degree that will hopefully land him a job in a professional sports industry. Even though he spends his days in an electric wheelchair and has never had the opportunity to play in a traditional able-bodied sport, if given the opportunity to contribute to a sports organization, there's no doubt he would have as good a chance to succeed as his able-bodied counterparts. 

So what does Jordan have to do with Hahn and LeGrand? 

When I see them presented with these amazing opportunities, I can't help but think of all those people with disabilities who weren't put in the spotlight because of their injuries or illnesses. Because of their unfortunate injuries on the field, athletes like Hahn and LeGrand were given a global support system and introduced to opportunities many others will never see. 

Now it's not their fault that they were injured in the public spotlight, and I don't blame them for taking advantage of every opportunity they can. But when I saw Hahn given the opportunity to have a job with the Dbacks after being drafted, it felt like he was given an unfair advantage. 

There are plenty of people with disabilities, myself included, who never had the opportunity to play in the higher levels of sports competition, who have the knowledge and skills needed to be a part of a professional sports industry. But since our injuries or illnesses didn't occur on a baseball diamond or football field, our opportunities will have to be obtained the old-fashioned way, through hard work and perseverance. 

That being said, the Dbacks 34th-round draft choice brings up a great opportunity for a serious dialogue about the role of people with disabilities in professional sports. If an organization is going to make this kind of gesture and give an athlete with a disability the chance to make a living in a sport outside of being an athlete, I ask them to remember those who are still fighting and hoping for that one chance to make it to the show. If they are truly interested in making this more than just a noble gesture, I urge the Dbacks, and every other sports organization, to take a serious look at the hiring of people with disabilities. When given the opportunity, we can be valuable and contributing members to any organization, even at the higher levels.