Players with disabilities call foul over Central Florida Softball League rule change

(Photo by Jeremy Williams)

ORLANDO | The Central Florida Softball League is catching some heat after a recent change to their rules surrounding disabled players.

Steve Roberts, a member of CFSL, says that the softball league has regressed the Americans with Disabilities Act rule that it had for at least the past seven years. The rule allowed disabled players to have another player run for them after they hit the ball.

The rule now states, “The ADA player will be eligible to receive a runner once they have reached first base on their at bat.”

For Roberts and other disabled players in the CFSL, he says, the game is almost unplayable now.

“If an average runner can run from home to first in five seconds, it takes me 15 or 20 seconds to walk fast to home plate,” Roberts says.

As a result of the change, Roberts says he and another player on his team were forced to quit playing. Leaving only one other disabled person on the team still attempting to play.

“It is sad to watch her run … she got out every single time she got up because they’re forcing her to run and she can’t run,” Roberts says. “She always had an ADA runner before the rule changed.”

Because the change is causing himself and other players to be unable to play, Roberts claims that CFSL is in violation of the ADA and therefore is breaking the law.

“We had an ADA runner, running from home for at least seven years, so regressing on that is really against the law as far as I am concerned,” says Roberts.

Bobby Agagnina, the CFSL Commissioner, says that the rule change was not a league decision, rather one from its parent organization the North American Gay Amateur Athletic Alliance.

“That change occurred there and we as a league adopted their language to be in compliance with our national organization,” Agagnina says.

However, Roberts says that where the rule comes from doesn’t matter because CFSL still chose to adopt it.

While the league is not required to adopt all the same rules as the membership organization, it is highly recommended says Agagnina.

“We have several rules that we don’t follow that are a part of NAGAAA and USA Softball,” Roberts says.

Agagnina agreed that the league does not follow every USA Softball rule but claimed that CFSL does adopt every NAGAAA rule. After a lengthy discussion over USA Softball rules as they evolve, the CFSL executive commission then decides whether or not to adopt certain rules to be more in line with USA Softball as well.

Along with concerns over those like himself who were forced to quit, Roberts says he is worried about those who are still playing, risking injuring themselves.

On top of injuries potentially caused by trying to run, he is concerned that because the disabled players are slower, they are more likely to be hit by the ball when it is thrown to get them out.

“Safety is a great concern for us,” says Agagnina. “We would hope that through different fielding drills that that would not happen, but of course accidents do occur.”

Despite the change forcing ADA players to reach first base, Agagnina made it clear that CFSL does not expect or encourage players to run if they cannot.

“All the rule says is that they have to reach first base,” adds Agagnina.

“We pride ourselves on being inclusive, respectful and supportive like one big family, and in no way are we trying to exclude anyone,” Agagnina says. “But we have to be in alignment with our national organization which we have membership with.”

While he and other players are upset about the change and are fighting for it to be reversed, Roberts adds he does not believe there was any ill intent with it.

“I don’t think they’re doing it to be mean. I don’t think they’re trying to injure anybody. I just think it’s a bunch of able-bodied players that don’t understand what it’s like to be disabled,” says Roberts.

UPDATED: Steve Roberts is still a current paying member of the CFSL. NAGAAA stands for North American Gay Amateur Athletic Alliance. The Central Florida Softball League follows all NAGAAA rules but does not follow all USA Softball Rules.

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