Attorney Mike Maddox and football player Alani Pahulu officially filed their lawsuit against Kansas University on Monday.
The suit -- filed in U.S. District Court in Kansas City -- seeks to overturn KU's medical disqualification of Pahulu, who transferred to Kansas from Ricks (Idaho) College last January but was declared medically unfit to play.
"Alani's situation is very difficult," KU athletic director Bob Frederick said. "I understand his desire to play, but we will not ignore the decision of the team doctors that playing football presents too great a risk to Alani."
Pahulu, a 24-year-old, 6-foot-5, 290-pound defensive tackle, suffered an episode during KU's 1994 spring drills where he felt a "shooting sensation" down both arms, Maddox said. He was diagnosed by Kansas team physicians with spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the cervical canal, and was declared unfit to play for the '94 season.
In the offseason, Pahulu received three other medical opinions -- from the Jobe Clinic in Los Angeles to a physician in North Carolina -- that declared he was at no greater risk of injury than a player without spinal stenosis.
His suit contends that, because he is disabled, KU is violating the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which bars discrimination against disabled persons enrolled at federally-funded schools, Maddox said.
"Under law, Alani is considered handicapped," Maddox said. "The school receives federal funds. We believe under federal law that they have an obligation to allow Alani to participate.
"Do we allow an adult to make his own decision, or should the university decide who plays and who doesn't?"
The suit also seeks a monetary sum equal to the cost of Pahulu's summer schooling. Pahulu has continued to receive an athletic grant-in-aid to play for his summer schooling, but Maddox said the grant did not pay his summer school costs.
"I hope (KU officials) realize it's nothing personal," Maddox said. "It's a difficult issue. I understand their need to support their own doctors. But we tried to work very hard with them. We gotta do what we gotta do."
Pahulu's case is not without precedent. Last summer, Oklahoma linebacker Tremayne Green was diagnosed with a neck injury and was barred from practice. Green sued OU and won.