By Mike Marciano

 

In recent years, there has been heightened focus on the health and fitness of athletes in professional sports leagues.[1] For example, star National Basketball Association player LeBron James reportedly commits close to $1.5 million a year to the maintenance of his body through specific dieting plans and workout routines with the goal of ensuring that he continues to maximize his athleticism as he enters the final years of his career.[2] Seven-time Super Bowl Champion Tom Brady, who most recently won a Super Bowl with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this February, adheres to an extremely strict and unorthodox diet, even eliminating from his diet certain foods that are traditionally considered healthy, in an attempt to precisely target certain dietary considerations.[3]

 

However, while strict dieting and focused training regimes are undoubtedly important to preserving athlete health, one particular technological advancement has been a massive asset to tracking the health of athletes. Specifically, wearable technology used to monitor athlete health and performance has proven to be an effective benefit to various sports leagues.[4]

 

Body-worn technology helps athletes, coaches, and teams in a variety of important ways. Consider Zephyr, a company that creates advanced body-worn performance systems.[5] Zephyr makes wearable compression shirts and sports bras that, “directly measure six key inputs including heart rate, breathing rate, heart rate variability, posture and impact.”[6]These metrics are helpful to teams monitoring the in-game health of athletes, but also to coaches making roster selections.[7]

 

The Zephyr product, in one instance, forewarned of an athlete’s oncoming heat exhaustion.[8] Specifically, the system implemented into the Zephyr product indicated a “student’s rising core temperature – before he showed physical signs of illness.”[9] Based on that information, the athlete was, “immediately cool[ed] and hydrate[d],” resulting in a “full recovery.”[10]

 

Additionally, some professional athletes have indicated a decline in their health as a result of contracting the COVID-19 virus.[11] Wearable technology, like that offered by Zephyr and other companies, such as STATSports, a Northern Ireland-based company, can offer important information to teams and coaches as they navigate through such trying times for their athletes, and the world.[12]

 

Despite the many positive effects that wearable technology has had on athletes and professional sports as a whole, the technology does not come without apprehension. Specifically, such advanced technology has raised privacy concerns with respect to such intimate data about one’s health.[13] For example, “the NFL is unique in that it allows teams to use the [wearable technology] data during contract negotiations,” but, “players do not have full access to this information, unless specifically granted by individual teams.”[14] Similarly, there are more broad concerns as to who exactly is granted access to this information, and the sensitivity level of the information that is collected, as, “data may reveal more sensitive personal information relating to the athlete’s identity, location, or health status, information that cannot be obtained just by closely observing the individual.”[15]

 

These concerns have been met with at least some response and consideration. For example, Major League Baseball has made an effort to address some of the apprehensions brought about by such personal technology as it is used on professional baseball players.[16] In the European Union, “[t]he GDPR regulates the processing of personal data in the EU and imposes harsh penalties for non-compliance,” a standard which applies to the types of data collected by wearable technology.[17]

 

Despite such important concerns, there can be no doubt as to the importance of this technology. If professional sports leagues are genuinely taking athlete health and safety seriously, then it seems silly to not thoroughly explore advanced wearable technology as a means of supporting such a goal. However, so long as the legitimate privacy concerns of athletes are not offended, wearable technology will hopefully continue to be a contributor to the health and safety of athletes worldwide.

 

[1] See Devika Pawar, LeBron James Spends $1.5 Million on Body Care to Keep Up with Growing Competition: Report, Republic (Apr. 13, 2020), https://www.republicworld.com/sports-news/basketball-news/lebron-james-spends-1-half-million-on-body-care-growing-competition.html.

[2] Id.

[3] Alana Mazzoni, How to Eat Like the G.O.A.T: Tom Brady’s Insane Diet That Keeps Him at the Top of the World’s Most Brutal Football Code at an Age-Defying 43, DailyMail (Feb. 7, 2021), https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-9234625/Tom-Bradys-insane-diet-keeps-worlds-brutal-football-code-43.html.

[4] See Sandy Thin, How Wearable Tech Helped Elite Athletes Through the Pandemic, CNN Business (Mar. 5, 2021), https://www.cnn.com/2021/03/05/tech/statsports-performance-tracking-spt-spc-intl/index.html.

[5] See Shourjya Sanyal, How Are Wearables Changing Athlete Performance Monitoring?, Forbes (Nov. 30, 2018), https://www.forbes.com/sites/shourjyasanyal/2018/11/30/how-are-wearables-changing-athlete-performance-monitoring/?sh=730d8fc2ae09; See generally Medtronic, https://www.zephyranywhere.com/ (last visited Mar. 5, 2021).

[6] Sanyal, supra note 5.

[7] See id.

[8] Id.

[9] Id. (quoting Daniel K. Bellamy, Director of Sports Performance, Howard University Bison Athletics).

[10] Id.

[11] See Jackson Thompson, Some Professional Athletes Have Suffered Steep Performance Declines After Contracting COVID-19, Insider (Mar. 4, 2021), https://www.insider.com/these-athletes-suffered-a-steep-decline-after-contracting-covid-19-2021-3.

[12] See Thin, supra note 4.

[13] See Joseph J. Lazzarotti et al., As Wearable Technology Booms, Sports and Athletic Organizations at All Levels Face Privacy Concerns, JacksonLewis (Apr. 5, 2019), https://www.workplaceprivacyreport.com/2019/04/articles/health-information-technology/as-wearable-technology-booms-sports-and-athletic-organizations-at-all-levels-face-privacy-concerns/.

[14] Id.

[15] Id.

[16] Id. (noting that, “Major League Baseball and the Players Association added Attachment 56 to the 2017-2021 Collective Bargaining Agreement to address some of these concerns.”).

[17] Andy Nolan & Lauren Steele, Sports Technology and the GDPR: Data Privacy Concerns in Sports Analysis, Lexology (June 24, 2020), https://www.lexology.com/library/detail.aspx?g=38355c57-547b-4e76-b575-e600d9519d2a.

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