ESPN & Adam Schefter Obliterated the Imaginary Line of Ethics

Make no mistake about it, I love Adam Schefter. His tenacity in getting a story (and getting it right almost every time), working sources, and professionalism have always been among the best in the business. Combine that with an underrated wit and humor and it’s no surprise why many consider him the best NFL insider in the business. All of which makes his, and subsequently ESPN’s, decision to release images of Jason Pierre Paul’s medical data all the more shocking.

For those who may have missed the specifics of the story, after many days of speculation and conjecture, Schefter learned late yesterday that Giants’ franchise tag recipient Jason Pierre-Paul would be having his index finger amputated as the result of a July 4th fireworks accident. Breaking that news after such uncertainty was a big coup for Schefter and ESPN (especially considering rivals such as FOX’s Jay Glazer have connections to JPP). But Schefter crossed the line ethically when he released JPP’s medical data in a follow-up image.

There are plenty of problems with such a decision, but ultimately it comes down to common decency in dealing with a person’s medical data. There’s no question we’ll also see images soon enough of JPP with no right index finger. There’s no question that the All-Pro defensive end will have to discuss the accident and subsequent finger loss in the coming weeks and months. It will be a topic of discussion for some time, because of the circumstances surrounding the incident and its effect on JPP in the short and long term. So why then did Schefter feel the need to release the image? Schefter’s word stands for itself as time has showed. No, not everyone is right 100% of the time, but Schefter clearly had this one right in that he had seen the image already and confirmed its authenticity I’m sure. That’s fine. That’s what a good reporter does. But there’s no need to take it the next level by releasing that information for all of the public to see.

Furthermore is the concern that the image also lists another procedure for another patient. Whereas one could at least argue that JPP is a public figure and thus subject to some level of scrutiny — which in itself is a terrible argument when it comes to medical and health issues — there’s no way we can say the same for the 65-year old male who is listed at the top of the image. Sure, it only gives the individual’s initials, not his name. But nonetheless, it completely crosses the line of all decency to include that information in the tweet.

Frankly the fact that ESPN and Schefter left the tweet up is disappointing. Sure, nothing is ever truly gone in the internet age, but a retraction would have at least been the right thing to do. Instead ESPN has doubled-down on the release of the information, stating that HIPPA does not apply to private organizations. That’s true, HIPPA isn’t something that ESPN is subject to like a hospital would be. They may be subject to other such laws in this case, but that’s still not the point. Legal or not — and that’s still debatable — ESPN and Schefter crossed an ethical line when they released not just JPP’s medical data, but also that of an unrelated individual.

Schefter and ESPN aren’t going anywhere of course, and it would be unfair to say one instance of questionable ethics should be used to completely tear down Schefter. But here’s to hoping both he and ESPN learn a little from this instance, and use better discretion in the future.

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