Preview: 1984 Meets Moneyball – Who Owns Player Data?
Wearable tech for fitness is a craze that seems never ending as technology constantly advances. But what about wearable tech and professional athletes? What’s being done with the data collected on NFL players, and who is protecting players’ privacy? Daron Roberts, founding director of the Center for Sports Leadership and Innovation (CSLi) at the University of Texas, will lead the SXSW 2016 panel entitled “1984 Meets Moneyball: Who Owns Player Data?” The panel will dive into the concerns and implications for the future of collecting and protecting professional player data.
What data is being collected on pro athletes and why does it matter that it’s being collected?
“Our panel is going to look at all of the data that’s being collected on players around the various leagues. Moneyball, the Michael Lewis book turned movie, really was a chronicle of how baseball created this phenomenon around data analytics. Everything from a player’s speed, to quickness, to weight – that has progressed to a point where now we’re measuring heart rate and caloric intake and sleeping patterns. So really the main thrust of our panel is to look at – as we accumulate more data at the team level and on individual players – who owns that data and who has access to the data after a player has left a particular team. There are a lot of privacy implications with a lot of rich information that’s being collected. We hope that this panel will highlight some of the issues that are at play for both players and teams and will push the discussion forward.”
Are there limits to the data that can be collected? Is there a point where the type of data being collected is an invasion of privacy?
“The problem is that the issue has progressed past what a lot of the collective bargaining agreements have contemplated. This is really new territory. When you look at collective bargaining agreements really being created once every six to nine years on average, what often times happens is the technology advances past what the previous agreement was. When you look at 32 teams in the NFL, five years ago many of those teams didn’t have analytic departments. Now most do have them. There aren’t many limits and the thing is many questions aren’t being raised by players in particular because – whether it’s strapping on a sensor to measure sleeping habits – all of those sensors also have GPS tracking systems. We’re not saying teams are using that information in a harmful way, but we do realize that there is a potential for that manipulation of information so heightening awareness around those issues is important for both sides.”
Whose responsibility is it to advocate for players’ privacy in data collection?
“On the question of responsibility you have a lot of suspects. One you would say well, maybe the player’s association. Every league has a player’s association and that body is the union that negotiates with ownership and the league offices. So that’s one potential advocate. The next would be agents. Agents represent players, they renegotiate contracts – those are the individuals who are also charged with looking out for the best interests of athletes. Then you have the athlete, him or herself, the individual who is putting wearables on their body and running around the court or the field. You would hope there would be some personal responsibility to say, ‘Well hey, I’m kind of giving you a lot of rich information and even though it may be inadvertent, I still own that data because I’m producing it.’ Then you have outside attorneys. Some players have hired outside attorneys. So there are a lot of stakeholders at the table. I think at the very minimum a player should want to know where his or her information is being collected and stored and where it will live after that player concludes his or her time with the team.”
How are universities handling player data?
“This is a very new area. A lot of college teams have wearables that they make their players put on and use. I’m not sure that a lot of colleges have contemplated, ‘What are we going to do with this stuff?’ Someone’s going to want it down the road. If you think about it, a player could play at the University of Texas as a freshman – you’d have four years of very rich information. Let’s say the player is in a minority that goes on to play for a professional league. So you could see where having the information from his or her freshman year to their eighth year in the league – that’s twelve years of longitudinal data.”
Who should attend this panel?
“People who are interested in welfare issues of players should come to this panel. If you’re interested in the concussion movement, if you’re interested in character and leadership and development, this is an issue that’s important. If you’re interested in the data analytics movement (think Moneyball). I think many times the discussion has revolved around – how can we get a lot of information so we can optimize on-field performance, and this is going to turn that issue on it’s head and say, ‘As we continue to collect so much information, who’s at risk of being harmed by this information further down the road?’ People who are interested in analytics and people who are interested in the welfare of athletes should definitely attend.”
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