On November 29, Devon Hammond filed a civil rights lawsuit against the University of Southern Mississippi (“Southern Miss”) for violating federal antidiscrimination law. Hammond alleges the school discriminated against him by refusing to let him play football after learning Hammond only has one kidney. Hammond, a former Louisiana State University (“LSU”) football recruit, transferred to Southern Miss after being recruited by the school’s football coach Dan Disch. According to Hammond, Disch offered the recruit a full scholarship at the school so long as Hammond assisted the program’s rebuild and earned a second string or better position on the roster. Hammond jumped at the opportunity, withdrawing from LSU and even deferring for a year in order to comply with NCAA transfer regulations. However, after completing a physical examination and disclosing his condition, Hammond was removed from team practice due to his being a ‘liability’ to the team. After the school refused to accept Hammond’s offer to sign a form waiving liability, he filed the suit.
Hammond states in his lawsuit that Southern Miss’ refusal to let him play constitutes discrimination based on the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act. He contests that having one kidney has never affected his ability to play football during practice or games. Furthermore, Hammond’s kidney specialist noted that it was highly improbable for Hammond to incur any kidney injury as a result of playing football. The school has responded that the decision to pass on Hammond was not based on a pure discrimination of disabled players but was driven by a desire to protect his health, with a July 17 memo stating that allowing Hammond to play would be costly to the school and even more costly to Hammond. Hammond has since returned to LSU and hopes to play on the team.
Jason Colin is a Sports Highlight Contributor for the Harvard Journal of Sports and Entertainment Law and a current first year student at Harvard Law School (Class of 2020).