Fired for Diabetes

A few weeks ago, New England Patriots defensive tackle Kyle Love found out that he has Type 2 diabetes. Dealing with a diabetes diagnosis is almost never easy, but for Love, this probably wasn’t the worst news of the month. Last week, in what The Boston Globe describes as a “surprise move,” he was released from the team for having a “non-football illness” that might interfere with his ability to play. According to the Globe article, Love had recently experienced unexplained weight loss, dropping from 310 pounds to about 280 pounds in a short period, which led to his diagnosis. Love’s agent predicted that he would be back in top athletic form within weeks, although he was not participating in the team’s off-season workout program in the aftermath of his diagnosis.


Needless to say, professional football is not exactly a typical profession, and most people with diabetes don’t face the grueling physical requirements of the sport. But for some people, at least, professional football is their job, and it’s a job that they could potentially lose if they develop diabetes. In Love’s case, it doesn’t appear that diabetes had any negative impact on his playing during the football season. In fact, as another Globe article notes, the Patriots’ defensive tackle seems to have been weakened as a result of his departure.

Professional sports is not the only area of employment in which having diabetes can be an automatic disqualification, even if there is no evidence that it is creating physical limitations. As we noted in a Diabetes Flashpoints post two years ago, all forms of diabetes disqualify individuals from service in the US military. (Servicewomen who develop gestational diabetes might be an exception to this rule.) Other professional regulations focus on insulin-treated diabetes, including Federal Aviation Administration rules that bar anyone who takes insulin from being a commercial airplane pilot. The federal government, along with many states, also imposes severe restrictions on commercial truck and bus driving for anyone who takes insulin. Sometimes an exemption can be offered if the person shows evidence of good blood glucose control and a low risk of hypoglycemia, but the burden of proof clearly rests with the applicant.

How do you feel about diabetes-based job restrictions — when is it all right to exclude someone from a job without knowing the details of his or her health status? Should some employers be allowed to exclude all people with diabetes, or those who take insulin, in the name of public safety? Should professional athletes have legal protections against being fired for illness, or does that risk simply come with the territory? Leave a comment below!

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  • Joanne B.

    I can understand restrictions where public safety is involved; I wouldn’t want to be on a plane with a diabetic pilot who is prone to lows. I don’t understand, however, why an athlete should be let go due to the disease. Granted, he may need some time to adjust and get it under control, but once that happens why should he be kept from playing the sport he loves?

  • Connie Webb

    With the noted actions in this article, it amazes me that diabetes is not a disease covered by the Disabilites Act.

  • Norine Rarhbone

    I also agree. Flying while under the influence of insulin can be risky but not impossible. But sports is another matter. Jay Cutler a professional NFL quarterback takes insulin and still plays pro football.

    So Kyle should be allowed to as well. And what the hell is a non-football illness anyway. Are they saying that there are football-related illnesses? That is so stupid.

    I think they just don’t want to pay out the medical insurance for his health care needs. Maybe another team will take him and respect him.

    My goodness I’m a 12 year breast cancer survivor who played professional women’s full tackle football when I was 51 and 52 years old. I was applauded for doing it both at my age and in spite of having had cancer.

    And national men’s baseball respected me too for 12 years. I must retired from that sport this year.

    I’m so tired of people being discriminated for their health from people who have no health issues at the moment. Just remember you people who are discriminatory someday you may be in Kyle shoes or cleats and find yourself out the door for having an illness you didn’t ask for…

  • Norine Rathbone

    Oops. Sorry I misspelled my own name…

    ARealLivePinkBat (dot) com

    That would be me! And my life story in sports…

  • Fred

    As an avid Patriots fan (season ticket holder) and diabetic, I was very concerned when I first found out about this. I am even a fan particularly of Kyle Love. The fact is that his was not ‘fired because of his diabetes’ although the Patriots may have used ‘non-football injury’ as a technical excuse on the release. He was released due to the makeover of their defense and his style of play which does not match. The Patriots have a long history of accommodating illness including drafting a player (Marcus Cannon) who was fighting lymphoma. See the Globes’ article which explains this:
    Portraying it this way is missing the facts of what happened and unfair to the Patriots.

  • Rebecca

    Connie, I SO agree! If they can fire you or ‘disqualify’ you from military service then shouldn’t it be considered a ‘disability’? sad
    My husband, a civil servant and Air Force Reservist is dealing with that onus at this time. I’m not sure they know at this point. Although they do know about his kidney stones and if he has anymore problems i am afraid it will be the same decision. I understand maybe you wouldn’t want to go overseas or such, but I can not believe there can’t be SOME job that one can do in the military if you have diabetes. again. Sad.

  • MEL

    I think that people with diabetes may be considered persons with a disability since it affects several major life functions — notably eating and physical activities. I seem to recall a police officer who applied to be a special agent with the FBI and was denied employment based on his diabetes — and the court found that he was a qualified person with a disability.