Hey baseball fans, as well as all you casual observers of the sport. If you’re like me, you’ve noticed the huge spike in home runs (Commissioner Manfred says the balls are not juiced), some of the unexpected blockbuster trades just before last week’s trade deadline, and the emergence of young second generation stars like Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Fernando Tatis Jr. But there’s another significant development that you may have overlooked. I know I was asleep at the switch and did not see the news over the winter about the renaming of the Disabled List or DL, as it’s been called for over 100 years. Truth be told, as an employment and labor lawyer, I’ve always wondered about that term. When a player went on that list with a hamstring pull or a sprained ankle, was I to assume he was really disabled? Especially as that term is defined under the Americans with Disabilities Act? Of course not. Even though the ADA can sometimes be expanded to include even transient conditions, a player with a pulled hammy is not disabled.
The term DL has been unique to baseball. The NFL has the Injured Reserve, or IR, that players go on when they suffer injuries expected to keep them out of a significant number of games. There is also the PUP, or Physically Unable to Perform, that NFL players are placed on when they suffer injuries prior to the regular season. And, the NFL even has the NFI list for players who suffer injuries that are Not Football Injuries but that keep them off the playing field. In the NBA teams put injured players on the inactive list, or actually, any player who cannot play for any reason. The NHL also has an Injured Reserve list, like the NFL. MLS (major league soccer) has an Injury List as well as a Season Ending Injury List. Those terms all make sense and do not perpetuate old stereotypes that people with disabilities are not healthy enough to participate in sports or daily activities.
Last December the League informed teams that the DL had gone the way of, well the DL and was being replaced by the IL, or Injured List. The change emanated from suggestions by advocacy groups. Jeff Pfeifer, MLB senior director of league economics and operations, wrote, “the principal concern is that using the term ‘disabled’ for players who are injured supports the misconception that people with disabilities are injured and therefore are not able to participate or compete in sports.”
So, does this change anything for diehard baseball fans? No, not really. If your team’s ace pitcher or all-star shortstop is out for 10 days with an ankle sprain, it doesn’t much matter whether he’s on the DL, the IL, or on vacation in the DR. But it is progress when I no longer have to tell my baseball-playing son that when Mike Trout is on the IL, he does not get to use the parking space at the mall for people with disabilities.