When It Comes to Injuries, How Private is Athlete Privacy?

July 27, 2016
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Athlete privacy and the transparency of their injuries

Athlete PrivacyWhen top defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul blew off a chunk of his hand in a fireworks incident last summer, he may have changed how the media looks at athlete privacy. 

Lawsuit asks whether athletes’ medical records are private 

Is an athlete’s health a matter of public concern? This question, and its eventual answer, could have ramifications for injured sports stars. The New York Giants football player’s health was a mystery for some time. The status of his hand was on everyone’s mind after initial reports of the accident came out. It was Adam Schefter, one of ESPN’s star football reporters, who eventually got his hands on Pierre-Paul’s hospital records and then proceeded to tweet them to the public.

The defensive end was not happy with that. In a lawsuit against the reporter and ESPN, Pierre-Paul claims that his privacy was violated. The sports network counters that the tweet was within Schefter’s First Amendment rights, due to the football player’s health being a matter of public concern. ESPN is arguing under Florida’s recent SLAPP rule, or strategic lawsuit against public participation, that it had the freedom to reveal Pierre-Paul’s medical records. 

ESPN not bound by medical regulations re: athlete privacy

The football player contended that the network exists because of athletes, and that therefore, it should be working to protect their rights. Strangely, though, the football player’s argument goes on to criticize Schefter for not going far enough in an interview with Greg Hardy, a defense end accused of domestic abuse.

One issue with Pierre-Paul’s argument is that while the hospital is legally bound to keep patients’ medical records private, news organizations are not. Therefore, Schefter was not required to keep Pierre-Paul’s medical records private when he tweeted the picture. 

When athletes step into the spotlight, they often lose the sort of privacy that many people take for granted. When an injury can drastically affect a team’s performance, there will likely be a scramble to learn more about it. While Pierre-Paul might make some sort of breakthrough with his lawsuit, in the end the media will always seek to probe athletes’ private lives. 

If you’re concerned about your private life, in the case of an injury or otherwise, consult an experienced sports attorney for more information on your rights of athlete privacy and how to proceed.

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