Concerns of Athlete Biometric Data

This was an assignment of the ethical concerns of athlete biometric data. Per the class, it is written for player’s unions for the purposes of the assignment.

  1. Introduction
  2. Data Misuse
  3. Teams and Players Working Together
  4. Potential Solutions
  5. Bibliography


Class Assignment: Ethical Concerns of Athlete Biometric Data Vignette:

Largely based on one free-agency signing in 2012, the Pittsburgh Pirates won an additional thirteen games. The Pirates were able to isolate a specific quantity, namely a catcher’s pitch framing ability, which led to dramatic improvements for their team.1 This is an example of how using athletes’ biometric data (ABD) can give teams and players a competitive advantage over their opponents. ABD has the potential to create new competitive advantages for those who embrace it. ABD, defined as measurements about how the body works, has long been collected through vertical jump measurements, pitch speeds, or reaction times. However, with new wearable technologies, ABD can be collected to record precise internal data such as breathing rate, blood pressure, bone density and body composition, among many others.2


Unfortunately, ABD can easily be misused. A team could hypothetically try to monitor players in ways unrelated to their on-field performance. Evaluating their players at all times by viewing their blood-alcohol content, dietary habits, sleep patterns or location, could lead to teams making contract decisions based on a player’s intrinsic data3. While use of this data could easily lead down a slippery slope, proper regulation and a proactive approach by players’ unions can make this beneficial for players and teams alike.

More importantly, ABD can help players avoid injuries, improve on-field performance and develop ABD-personalized training regimens. ABD can ensure a player isn’t practicing too hard or engaging in other risky behaviors, which could lead to an injury and jeopardize their economic future. In this way, players can use on-field measurements to find weaknesses in their ability, not otherwise obvious to trainers and coaches, to improve their performance. This use of data could also help players market themselves to teams and receive higher salaries if they show that they possess certain innate desirable traits like above-average speed or stamina.4

Working Together

Moreover, if the players’ unions work with the sports leagues, they can develop ways to sell certain parts of ABD to third parties and generate new revenue streams for players. This recently happened in the NFL, where a company called Whoop purchased access to certain player data and generated a new stream of revenue for players5. This is emblematic of deals that could be made with video-game creators, virtual-reality companies, television networks and various other companies6. ABD can also be a key part of content used for virtual and augmented-reality, fantasy sports, and sports wagering, all of which can also drive revenues for the players and teams7. Furthermore, studies have shown that fans become more engaged with players when shown ABD, which could lead to more merchandise sales as fans become more ardent supporters.8

However, due to the pervasive nature of ABD, there are obvious risks of the data being used to negatively impact players; nevertheless, if certain safeguards are established, it would help limit these dangers. Since teams already test for narcotics and PEDs, perform injury screenings and examine a player’s medical records, which are treated as very sensitive data, before signing them to a contract, ABD should be treated in a similar manner. Further, ABD should be kept under a player’s control, which could be written into future player contracts and legally bind teams to keep data secure. Fines or roster capacity reductions could be imposed on teams that misuse ABD, as a further disincentive9.The players’ unions could also be instrumental in developing a centralized system for the management, dissemination and protection of ABD. ABD is likely going to be used, and players need to anticipate these changes to mitigate the damage and power loss10.


Ultimately, ABD needs to be regulated. Every Player’s Association and Collective Bargaining Agreement will need to blend players’ and teams’ interests in this matter. In terms of protecting the players, we need to offer a solution that allows players to opt out of providing ABD, allows them to revoke access and give as much ABD as they want to provide.11 As a compromise to teams, who want ABD to evaluate players, team doctors should be provided with a standardized set of ABD, which can be used to evaluate a player’s general health. Team doctors should serve as gatekeepers and protect this data, in this way. A player shouldn’t face any repercussions for choosing not to provide their ABD to teams, past minimum requirements and team doctors should serve as an independent third party, employed by the leagues, and be obligated to provide the same information to both parties.

Players and teams have an economic stake in ABD and we need to make sure that the players’ interests are protected. Ultimately, there are concerns about ABD, but this data can be very useful to athletes. ABD can provide great training insights, performance benefits and additional revenue streams. With proper oversight, the ethical concerns can be avoided, and everyone can profit from this new form of information. Ultimately, ABD is going to be used and if players can take a proactive stance, then they can avoid heading down a very slippery slope.


  1. Sawchik, Travis. Big Data Baseball: Math, Miracles, and the End of a 20-Year Losing Streak. Flatiron Books, 2016.

  2. Osborne, Barbara, and Jennie L Cunningham. “Legal and Ethical Implications of Athletes ‘ Biometric Data Collection in Professional Sport.” Marquette Sports Law Review, vol. 28, no. 1, 2017, doi:10.6019/tol.elsi-c.2015.00001.1.

  3. Venook, Jeremy. “The Upcoming Privacy Battle Over Wearables in the NBA.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 11 Apr. 2017

  4. Madni, Jamal A., and Juo-Yu Lee. “Processing Biometric Data of Game Players Using Body Sensors.” 2009 IEEE Sensors Applications Symposium, 2009, doi:10.1109/sas.2009.4801798.

  5. Jones, Rhett. “NFL Players Strike a Deal to Sell Their Biometric Data.” Gizmodo, Gizmodo, 25 Apr. 2017

  6. McMahan, Ian. “The Tricky Ethics of the NFL’s New Open Data Policy.” Wired, Conde Nast, 28 Mar. 2018

  7. Gale, Kristy. “The Sports Industry’s New Power Play: Athlete Biometric Data Domination. Who Owns It and What May Be Done with It .” HeinOnline, Arizona State University Sports and Entertainment Law Journal, 2016

  8. Curmi, Franco, et al. “HeartLink.” Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems - CHI ‘13, 2013, doi:10.1145/2470654.2466231.

  9. Arnold, Jason F., and Robert M. Sade. “Wearable Technologies in Collegiate Sports: The Ethics of Collecting Biometric Data From Student-Athletes.” The American Journal of Bioethics, vol. 17, no. 1, 2016, pp. 67–70., doi:10.1080/15265161.2016.1251648.

  10. Wyshynski, Greg, “Player Tracking Coming to the NHL? It’s Complicated.”, 28 Feb. 2018,

  11. Karkazis, K., and J. R. Fishman. 2017. Tracking U.S. professional athletes: The ethics of biometric technologies. American Journal of Bioethics 17(1): 45–60.

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