Quick Press — Professional Sports and “Disabled Lists”

Many professional athletic teams in the U.S. and Canada (for Hockey and Baseball, but I do not know of other sports, or of other countries’ sports’ teams) have what are known as “Disabled Lists“. Major League Baseball calls it this specifically, where a player who is temporarily injured and can not play for whatever reason is placed on this list.

The National Hockey League and the National Football League have what are called “Injured Reserved Lists“, but these are basically the same thing.

These lists are made public, for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is for fantasy leagues and gamblers so that they are always on top of who is in and who is out of the game.

How does this poke you, gentle readers? Does this feel like an appropriation of language by people who make their living off of able bodies who stretch them to extremes?

Does this fall under the “temporarily abled” thought train that some of us use when talking about how our bodies will eventually break down, knowing that professional athletes will often succumb to serious injury at younger ages than expected by society due to the constant beating they take?

I leave it to you, now to discuss.

About Ouyang Dan

is an extremely proggy-liberal, formerly single mommy, Native American, invisibly disabled, U.S. Navy Veteran, social justice activist and aspiring freelance writer currently living in South Korea on Uncle Sam's dime. She has a super human tolerance for caffeine and chocolate and believes she should use those powers for good. She said should. She is not a concise person, and sometimes comes on a little aggressively in comments. Sometimes her right arm still twitches when military brass walks past her, but she would rather be reading YA Lit or pwning n00bs. She can be found being cliche about music, overthinking pop culture, and grumbling about whatever else suits her fancy at her personal website, random babble.... She also writes about military issues for Change.org's Women's Rights blog. If you have something interesting to say email her at ouyangdan [at] disabledfeminists [dot] com. Lawyers in Italy looking to hold lottery winnings in her bank account may wait longer for reply.

13 thoughts on “Quick Press — Professional Sports and “Disabled Lists”

  1. Well, what matters, I think, is whether or not not-so-abled people are comfortable with the use of the term “disabled list.” I’m wondering whether or not it would be more appropriate to say that the players are “inactive,” which has more to do with the level of activity than the actual abilities of the players.

    That being said, as a baseball fan, sports can really wreak some havoc on the human body. The issues that some athletes have that put them on the so-called “disabled list” are often chronic issues that plague them for the rest of their lives. However, since the implications of the list lead us to understand that the players will no longer be on this “disabled list” (and will therefore be “abled”), people might not get how disability isn’t something that heals in 6-15 weeks before we can go back to being abled.

    And what’s worst, someone on the DL is considered not-productive; they don’t help the team in any way (I mean, how could they? They’re injured!). Drawing parallels there, we get to the ridiculously erroneous assumption that if you’re disabled, you don’t contribute to society.

    So yeah. I’m starting to think that it’s not a good name.

  2. Speaking as a PWMD who has temporary able-body privilege (though my ability to walk is somewhat impaired right now due to a recovering sprained ankle): It seems that “Injury Reserve List” is probably better language, but I wouldn’t call “disabled list” appropriation.

    It seems to me that “disabled list” is appropriately descriptive, per your second point. Players on the disabled list are not able to perform their job. The qualifier “temporary” is important in this situation, as you mention – when they are able to play, they are temporarily able-bodied. When they are injured, they are temporarily disabled.

    In some cases, these athletes are not temporarily disabled but permanently. Injuries, particularly repeat injuries, may become so serious that they cannot return to play – I’m thinking of pitchers in baseball here. And for many players, even if they are able to physically participate in the game and go through the required motions, they may not be able to play at the same level that they were before. Their ability is limited. They may be sent down to the minors or amateur leagues, or cut from the roster, or traded to another team, disrupting their lives and livelihood.

  3. Hmm… to me it reads like the players are objects i.e. pawns in a game and the term “disabled” in this context sounds like a thing that is disabled by a person, (like comments that are “disabled”.)
    I wonder if I’m the only one who gets that vibe from it.
    The reason why I’m getting this vibe is that the players are only valued by their sports performance (literally so, as that determines their wage.) and the trainers decide how and when to use them. The list is kind of in this context, it’s about how much the commodities are worth.
    It’s all pretty yucky.
    .-= Kowalski´s last blog ..A Small Reminder =-.

  4. Kowalski: No, in this instance I got the object vibe too, and my first thought of the term disabled here was in the way that you disable a machine or some such when you turn it off (or like comments yeah).

    I’m not at all at home in the area of sports though, I don’t follow any kind of sports.

  5. I’m a huge baseball fan and I’ll be honest, I’ve never really thought of it as ableist or as a kind of appropriation. That said, it’s not like I’ve sat and given it huge amounts of thought. phira’s comment has made me think a little about some of the negativity that could be derived from use of the term and how people might use it to think about disabled people.

    I do tend to find the kind of interpretations used in that example are more a problem with ableist thinking on the part of people than they are a problem with the term itself. There are a lot of things we ‘disable’ in society – from the audio on our cellphones to the anti-virus software on our computer to people, be those in sports or even in regular society when they become injured or sick. It is a word used by people to describe things and other people. It is almost exclusively something that is ‘done’ to things or people by people.

    If you consider MLB players to be commodities rather than people, then maybe ‘disabled list’ is the right term. The player is injured and his team disables him, meaning he can’t play and can be replaced by another. Which kind of leads me to think that the term ‘disabled’ shouldn’t be used by the MLB, and that it is the wrong word for those who would currently describe themselves as ‘disabled’ to be using to describe themselves.

  6. I wanted to respond to what Norah and Kowalski had to say about the objectifying going on since I’m pretty well-versed in baseball culture. I come from a home that’s steeped in baseball culture (from a critical perspective though not a social justice perspective) so keep in mind that I am not exactly seeing this objectively. I also apologize if this is a derail – since the bodies of baseball players are constantly contested, I thought I might take a step back.

    There is certainly some objectifying of baseball players in particular going on. I’m reminded of the language used to frame versatile players with a number of different skill sets as “five-tool players”. They are also depersonalized and in some ways dehumanized in the language of trades – broken down to skills and contracts. Considering that they are hired for a very specific skill set, I’m not sure how to re-frame the language of trades effectively.

    However, baseball players are not universally reduced to objects. Individual contribution is emphasized both in-terms of on-field performance – their statistics and activity or “hustle” on the field makes up the game, though they are certainly used and played or not played according to their skill set – and their personality and ability to promote the team. I recently went to a baseball game and there were a number of ways in which the players were individualized – they had walk-on music played over the stadium, and there was trivia about the player at bat. During breaks in the games, there were little skits or interviews that allowed the player to show his audience a bit of his personality.

    Getting back on topic, players are definitely not just turned off or framed as useless in the eyes of both team management and the fan community, particularly with higher-profile players. Their recovery is reported on, tracked, analyzed, and anticipated.

    But that recovery is demanded. Players must focus their all on recovering according to a certain schedule, and that recovery is highly policed. And of course, once those players have returned to the diamond, their bodies are highly, highly policed, analyzed, etc. in a number of lights….

  7. The article that sparked this thought train is not one I can find (and it appears that the paper I was reading has already been sent out for recycling!) online, but I saw that a baseball player was sent to the disabled list for a sprained pinky — fair enough, understanding that he will not be able to perform his job appropriately with said injury. I am not going to judge one person’s disability (but I will judge foisting the label “disabled” onto a person who doesn’t want to wear it…)

    The DL holds you for either 15 or 60 days, and you can be moved from one up to the other, but not backward, and you can stay longer but not less while you recover, which I guess is a good thing. Knowing that you have nothing to worry about but focusing on your health care is positive. The concept of “disabling” a player to allow them time to heal and recover seems like a toss to the social model or something to me, but it also feels objectifying, which is why I don’t subscribe to the social model (read as me personally)…/digress

    I think that something about the way they handle these lists, as if it is more important for the public to know that a player is injured than for that person to be recovering privately (I mean, I don’t need to know every time my favorite hockey player has a groin injury!) just really rubs me the wrong way.

  8. I haven’t followed baseball for a while, so this could be out of date, but I remember years back having the impression that teams would “play” with the DL–maybe putting a player on the DL to get his head back in the game without having to send him back to the minors. I don’t remember particulars, though, so I could be way off-base (*groan*) here. If that is the case, I’d definitely call that appropriation.

  9. (Big baseball fan here.)

    Ginny!: Some teams may indeed “play” the system, but I think the rules do mandate that there be medical certification of an injury. It’s interesting that you mention “putting his head back in the game,” because I recall there’s been some controversy about putting players on the DL for mental conditions. I just did a bit of googling on this score, and I found out that there was indeed an instance last year of a player being put on the DL due to depression:


    This instance perhaps provoked somewhat less controversy because the player’s depression appears more socially acceptable–his wife had died a few months previously. I wonder how a situation with a player who has debilitating depression for less socially acceptable reasons would fare. I’m skeptical that such a player would have been met with as much understanding and respect.

    While perhaps sometimes teams do not follow the rules, I do think it’s important that we acknowledge that mental conditions can in fact be disabling, and hence this is certainly an appropriate use of the DL. Just because something’s in your head doesn’t make it any less real.

    This post and the comments raise a number of interesting points. I hadn’t considered the privacy violation aspect before, and that’s certainly a valid point to raise. I do think, however, that the issue goes way beyond simply the DL itself. Rightly or wrongly, professional athletes’ health has become a matter of public interest. The elimination of the DL (or a renaming) would not significantly change this because people would still know who is and isn’t playing. It’s a function of our media-saturated culture, largely. As a sports fan, it does seem kind of strange to me that fans wouldn’t know at least a rough idea of which players on our teams (or fantasy teams) are injured and when they might be returning. It would just be profoundly odd.

    I’m trying to take a step back and not be defensive here. These are really interesting points. I do think it’s true that pro sports can commodify athletes, as shown through the language of “trading” players, etc. I also think that the culture of sports and intense media scrutiny can lead a lot of people to think they are somehow entitled to information about other people’s bodies. I’ve heard sports fans complain that so and so isn’t “really” injured enough to be on the DL and all sorts of other judgmental comments. After reading this I have a different perspective on that.

  10. @Sarah – The possibility of mental disability intersecting with the DL significantly shifts my view of the perception of whether or not it’s appropriation. This would indicate that the team took seriously not only the player but their investment in them as an employee – since the player could likely go through the motions, it would not be necessary so much as beneficial to them, and likely, their on-field performance. That indicates less of an emphasis on owning or pressuring an employee in ableist terms of their disability and more of a focus on the player as a whole person with needs that must be protected – for the sake of the player and the team.

    Also, as an OCD person, I wonder how baseball’s encouragement of rituals impacts a player with ritual-focus variety of OCD.

    (Mods! Distractedly put Sarah’s name instead of mine, please approve this comment.)

  11. I have opinions on the public’s perceived entitlement to any information about professional athletes (SURPRISE!), that meshes with my opinions on how we seem to think we are entitled to deets on celebrities — as in we are are not at all.

    Good point about mental illness and the DL list, because mental illness very well should be considered just as legit (oh, there’s another SURPRISE OPINION OF MINE YOU GUIZE!) a reason to be considered listed.

    I remember when Joe Jurevicius’ wife gave birth prematurely just before the Tampa Bay Buccaneers went to the Superbowl, and I seem to remember him playing in the game, but I do not recall if he was listed or just given leave after the game to deal with the the emotional aftermath of his son’s death, which, if IIRC, was great for him. You don’t hear a lot about pro athlete’s being listed for mental health reasons, and I wonder if there is more respect given for being listed for those reasons, and that is problematic to me, or if they just don’t admit to them because of the socialization of masculinity in pro sports (and now I have hit you all with a wall of text that should be another post…)

    /OYD digress

  12. I think “injured reserved list” is descriptive and appropriate and feels very different to me than “disabled list.” “Disabled” in this context feels like a distortion, as I doubt very much any of these players would call themselves disabled; they would view their injury as temporary until they can work again.

    I wouldn’t call it appropriation, though. I frankly think ABs almost never want to truly appropriate diz culture because, you know, we’re icky and our lives are tragic. (Though they do love a good mental illness/OCD/amputee/Deaf/blind/etc. joke! As mentioned in the appalling part 2 of the vatican post.)

    Aside from feeling like “disabled” is inappropriate here, “disabled list,” as others have mentioned, primarily seems to me to be using language in a way that we wordgeeks poke fun of — in that the list itself is disabled (how to get this darn list functioning again? is it a computer malfunction?), much like the ubiquitous references and signs for “handicapped parking.” A friend who is also a writer w/a disability and I have been relaying these tidbits to each other for years. My favorite time was when I saw a sign on the highway that read “Disabled Shoulder Ahead.” Since we were both required to use “person-first language” in our writing, I was quick to point out that the sign should have said, “Shoulder WITH a DISABILITY ahead.”

    I guess it’s obvious that I know nothing about baseball, but I’ve found the comments from those who do enlightening. I’m just meandering….

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