Fired for Diabetes

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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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