This Article examines the legal ramifications of Royce White, a basketball player with general anxiety disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder, playing in the NBA. White's conditions cause him to have a fear of flying, thus making it difficult to play in the NBA. This subject is without precedent in sports law and, because of the unique aspects of an NBA playing career, lacks clear analogy to other employment circumstances. This dispute also illuminates broader legal and policy issues in the relationship between employment and mental illness.
This Article argues that White would likely fail in a lawsuit against an NBA team and the NBA under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Case law disfavors recognition of his conditions as workplace disabilities, and even if a court recognizes them as such, there appears to be no reasonable accommodation that doesn't necessitate him flying.
This Article also contends that if White cannot adequately resolve his health issues, it would be advisable for him -- and the NBA and Players' Association -- to find creative resolutions. Such an approach would be far preferable to litigation. One such approach could be loaning White's employment to another pro basketball league where all or almost all games are played within driving distance. In that circumstance, he could develop his game against talented pro basketball players and, hopefully, gradually overcome his health issues. The Israel Super Basketball League (Ligat Winner Sal) is one such league. During time in another league, White's NBA employment rights could remain with an NBA team.
This Article also insists the NBA and Players' Association take mental health policies more seriously, especially as increasing rates of Americans are diagnosed with mental illness. For years, the NBA and Players' Association have focused on "physical" health policies while largely ignoring mental health.
Pepperdine Law Review
Michal McCann, "Do you Believe He Can Fly? Royce White and Reasonable Accommodations Under the Americans with Disabilities Act for NBA Players with Anxiety Disorder and Fear of Flying," 41 PEPP. L. REV. 2 (2014).
Reprinted from PEPPERDINE LAW REVIEW Volume 41,Issue 2,2013 Copyright 2013 by the Pepperdine University School of Law.