Soon he'll hear some boos.

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Jason Pierre-Paul Deserved Medical Privacy

Kavitha A. Davidson is a former Bloomberg View columnist.
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There's been a ton of mystery surrounding Jason Pierre-Paul since the New York Giants defensive end injured his hand in a fireworks accident on July 4. It seems not even the team itself has been able to get a clear picture of the extent of the damage. Giants officials reportedly went down to the Florida hospital where Pierre-Paul is recovering without notifying him, and were not permitted past the waiting room. As of Wednesday evening, however, we have an account of Pierre-Paul's injuries, thanks to ESPN's Adam Schefter. We probably should not have that account. 

Schefter obtained Pierre-Paul's medical records and tweeted out details from the private documents, including a photo of the chart itself. According to the report, Pierre-Paul had his right index finger amputated and has a fractured right thumb. He's expected to be able to play in the upcoming season -- that is, if news of his injuries doesn't prevent him from sealing a deal with the Giants.

Pierre-Paul is technically unsigned at the moment; the Giants used the franchise tag on him and he has yet to ink his one-year, $14.8 million franchise tender. The 26-year-old had a career year last season, notching 12.5 sacks and forcing three fumbles, but the fireworks accident has thrown his football future into question. Days before Schefter's report, the Giants pulled a $60 million, long-term offer to Pierre-Paul and could also decide to withdraw the tender. 

Leaking private medical information is a common, dirty tactic used by both teams and agents in the course of contract negotiations. While there's zero evidence the Giants had any hand in this -- or any actual knowledge of the injuries -- it's hard to overlook the impact these records could have on Pierre-Paul's deals. Most of the blame for this whole, silly ordeal lies squarely on No. 90's broad shoulders and a total breakdown in intelligent decision making. But that doesn't absolve those involved in the leak from violating Pierre-Paul's right to privacy as a patient in care.

If Pierre-Paul hasn't consented to the release of his medical records -- as reports that he is expected to sue the hospital would indicate -- then, at the very least, Schefter has demonstrated poor journalistic judgment on the level of Pierre-Paul's poor safety judgment. Posting a photo of the actual chart is clearly unethical, but even reporting its contents falls into a moral gray area unless Schefter approached Pierre-Paul first. On the one hand, leaked injury updates are reported on a daily basis in sports, and Pierre-Paul's injuries are certainly relevant in football reporting. On the other hand, athletes should be able to expect the same level of medical privacy as the rest of us. Those excusing the leak are doing so because of the nature of the accident, because it's so easy to blame Pierre-Paul for doing something boneheaded. But if he were undergoing care for a disease or an injury that wasn't self-induced, leaking those medical records without his consent probably wouldn't sit well with most people.

Additionally, the defense that Schefter is just doing his job in reporting the facts of Pierre-Paul's injuries largely overlooks the disparities between teams and players when it comes to personal medical information. Teams frequently downplay, obscure and even lie about the true extent of players' injuries to the news media. So journalists take it at face value when the Mets insist David Wright will be out only a couple of weeks with a hamstring strain -- he's actually out indefinitely with spinal stenosis -- but it's the duty of a roving reporter to get to the bottom of a player trying to hide his injuries?

In addition to Schefter's journalistic ethics, there's the question of the legality of releasing a player's medical records. Indeed, assuming Pierre-Paul didn't give consent, this seems to be a violation of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, although not by ESPN or Schefter. Whoever gave the records to Schefter in the first place -- again, assuming it wasn't Pierre-Paul, and some think it was -- breached the law. (As ESPN's short statement on the subject noted, "HIPAA does not apply to news organizations.") Florida law is even more protective of medical privacy than Federal legislation, although one assumes the battalion of lawyers in Bristol, Connecticut, fully vetted Schefter's scoop.

It's a fine line between journalistic duty and respect for an individual's privacy, but we can't simply accept as a fact of sports reporting that a player's private health records are automatically fair game.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

To contact the author on this story:
Kavitha A. Davidson at kdavidson19@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor on this story:
Tobin Harshaw at tharshaw@bloomberg.net