The president of the NFL Players Association said on a panel held at the annual Consumer Electronics Show that data collected from wearables technology belongs to the athlete.
Joe Lemire | Sport Techie
Eric Winston, a 12-year offensive lineman most recently with the Cincinnati Bengals, gave the example of a running back’s 80-yard run. While the performance (i.e. the rushing yards he gained) might be a statistic that does not belong to the athlete, the granular information comprised therein — such as his heart rate while running — should be classified separately.
“There is a line there somewhere, and I would say that, when you start talking about health and safety, when you start talking about personal data — whether you’re talking about heart rate, whether you’re talking about sleep or all these other data metrics — and then that, to me, becomes intensely personal,” Winston said. “That’s where, to me, I draw the line of ‘it belongs to the athlete’ and it should be his prerogative what he wants to do with that.”
One of Winston’s co-panelists — Dr. Leslie Saxon, a cardiologist and founder of USC’s Center for Body Computing — put the matter more succinctly.
“I would say athletic data is their medical record,” she said, referring to wearable data, before adding: “If we frame it that way, then it will end up representing the best interest of the athlete, which it has got to do for the field to grow. If it doesn’t do that, it’s just going to be another way athletes are commoditized and exploited.”
The NFL currently mandates that all of its players wear Zebra Technologies’ tracking chips on their shoulder pads during games, though those chips transmit positional and movement data, not pure biometrics like heart rate and other internal data. The NFLPA reached a landmark deal with wearable company WHOOP last spring in which the players will have ownership of their own data and reserve the right to monetize it.
The host of the CES panel was Sports Innovation Lab CEO Angela Ruggiero, an Olympic gold medal-winning U.S. hockey player, and she noted that some distribution of the data is necessary.
“Athletes presumably own the data,” she said, “but someone has to interpret it.”
As Kinduct CEO and founder Travis McDonough said, an authentication system or permission system needs to be implemented that is controlled by the athlete. When it comes to dissemination of that data to broadcasters or sponsors, Winston emphasized that each player would have a different comfort level.
“The short answer to that — and it’s probably a little cliche — is that there needs to be a conversation,” Winson said.
“There’s definitely a line somewhere, and I think the line might be a little different for everyone.”