A former University of Southern Mississippi football player filed a lawsuit against the university's football program on Wednesday, alleging discrimination after he was dismissed from the team for being born with only one kidney.
According to the lawsuit filed in federal court in Baton Rouge, Deven Hammond was prohibited from playing football for the University after coaches found out he was born with only one kidney, despite Hammond being cleared by the USM Student Health Services Center to compete.
"His doctors said he could play, Southern Miss' medical center said he could play, so the only reason they are not letting him play is discrimination," said his attorney, William Most.
Hammond was an All-American athlete at Brusly and Port Allen High Schools in Louisiana before joining the LSU football team his freshman year. According to court documents, USM coach Dan Disch invited Hammond to transfer and promised a full-ride scholarship if he could make second-string or better on the team's depth chart.
In the summer of 2017, Hammond transferred and began practicing with the team before being dismissed.
"He started practicing with the Southern Miss team like normal," Most said. "He disclosed to the health center that he only had one kidney and there was no problem. It was when he told one of the coaches he only had one kidney that he was immediately taken off the team, taken off the field and told he couldn't play."
School policy allows for a second opinion by specialists, and Hammond's kidney specialist wrote a letter to USM explaining that he "should not be prohibited from playing football," and that the "risks of a kidney injury from football are incredibly slim." According to court documents, the university still did not change its stance, stating in a memo that his condition could "be costly to the institution and Athletic Department."
Hammond and his attorney said that it is discrimination violating the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act.
"What USM did to Deven is illegal," said a press release from Hammond's attorneys. "The law is clear – barring a student with one kidney from playing football after he offers to sign a waiver of liability is a violation of federal antidiscrimination statutes."
The lawsuit also alleges that coaches violated Hammond's privacy by disclosing his medical condition to other universities.
“The purpose of the Americans With Disabilities Act was to ensure equal treatment for all, and Deven is willing to fight for that,” Bizer & DeReus attorney Andrew Bizer said.
"There are federal anti-discrimination laws that are very clear about what happens in this situation," Most said. "A student athlete who wants to play football, who only has one kidney, has to be able to play if he signs a waiver of liability. Otherwise, the only reason to not let him play is discrimination. Just because you were born differently doesn't mean you can't achieve your dreams."
WDAM reached out to Southern Miss, but officials said they cannot comment on pending litigation.