Athlete Monitoring: Inside The Next Great NBA Controversy

Featured: article can be read in its entirety on The Atlantic HERE.  What follows are key excerpts and my comments on them.  I highly recommend giving the full article a read.

Despite assurances that biometric data will be used to develop strategies that could prolong their careers, players have ample reason to believe that the information may also result in a big bite out of their future earnings. With the liberal application of money and time, and with the technology already making its way into games in a much more limited capacity, general consensus seems to be that wearables will be arriving in American professional sports in full force. With that integration, though, will come an array of problems, both logistical and ethical, for the leagues to sort out, whether they’re equipped to do so or not.

The bioethics issue behind all of this is going to be the largest piece that players contend.  Where does data become relevant to performance vs. crossing the line into Big Brother territory?

nba sport science

Deandre Jordan is one notable player who's played with a wearable under his wristband for some time.

For now, the right to opt out of using biometric trackers is enshrined in the NBA’s new collective-bargaining agreement, the 600-page document outlining relations between the league, the teams, and the players’ union that takes effect in the fall. According to a three-page section on wearables, the devices are prohibited in games, and use in practice is strictly voluntary and constrained to one of six brands. Any team requesting a player wear one must explain, in writing, what’s being tracked and how the team will use the information, not only to the player himself but also to a six-person panel comprising three representatives for the players’ union and three for the league. Most importantly, the agreement says that “data collected from a Wearable worn at the request of a team may be used for player health and performance purposes and Team on-court tactical and strategic purposes only. The data may not be considered, used, discussed or referenced for any other purpose such as in negotiations regarding a future Player Contract or other Player Contract transaction,” under penalty of a $250,000 fine.

The Players Union is stronger in the NBA than elsewhere, but future evolutions of law and holes in preexisting agreements can be found where some execs are getting creative.

basketball sport science

This is, at least nominally, a significant exemption: It means that a player doesn’t have to worry about his coaches, managers, and trainers basing the value of his next contract on whether his heart rate fluctuates enough during a game or whether he gets dehydrated too quickly. That’s not to say that teams won’t find other ways to use the data. Alan Milstein, an adjunct professor at the University of New Hampshire School of Law who specializes in sports and bioethics, suggests that the biggest potential value will come from understanding how players rest and recover. “For the teams, they would like to know how their aging players are doing on and off the field—how are they recovering from games, how are they recovering from workouts,” he says.

Once teams have unfettered access to such data, a particularly nefarious executive may suddenly develop a new vocabulary at the negotiating table. For example, Haberstroh says, “Let’s say that he sees that this guy parties a lot and that he’s not getting much sleep. Instead of saying, ‘Okay, we’re going to offer you a $5 million contract instead of a $7 million contract because you party too much,’ they might say something like, ‘We just worry about the character, the professionalism.’

SPORTS SCIENCE LAB

The OmegaWave System is something I use in both athletes and executive fitness clients for relevant sport science.  Access to athlete readiness, windows of trainability (what activity is optimal to train that day), as well as providing canaries in the coalmine to stress load from training, sleep, diet, stress/trauma, etc. are all useful pieces for anyone.  Sometimes you just need to get in there and train, but using this in a targeted fashion can help guide training and health decisions.  It helps invite the conversation (in a non-invasive way) of what clients are doing around our sessions/program for accountability-oftentimes it lets them know just how significant everything around the program/sessions are, which is highly useful for netting behavioral changes.  Another cool aspect is being able to periodize (and thus program for) the physiological adaptations of the athlete-a.k.a. are my personalized health/nutrition interventions and training prescriptions developing a more resilient, anti-fragile athlete?

“You’re having that in the NBA too, where trainers are looking for a certain number rather than customizing what that number is” based on the specific player and the broader suite of desired results. In other words, teams may make reaching a particular heart rate or sweat level the goal of a practice rather than understanding that breaking a sweat and working oneself up to a high heart rate are indicators in the larger process of performing at a high level.

Data is mute without context.  Data is mute without considering the human being.  Most wearable data (hello FitBit) is borderline useless in some way or another.

p3 sport science

A player who had recently returned to the NBA from a stint abroad told Haberstroh that, in Spain, “when you get to the hotel, they have a curfew, and they have people waiting in the lobby making sure you go to bed.” Another reported his concern that teams might punish him for having a glass of wine before bed the night before a game. “With these kinds of devices, your body becomes the property of the team,” says Milstein. “They may be able to determine what you’re allowed to eat, how long you’re allowed to sleep, how much sex you can have, when you’re allowed to have sex. It’s a long road that we’re just starting to walk down, and I just don’t know who’s going to put up the stop signs.”

The rate of change itself is actually changing via a rapid acceleration.  Technology is inside of us, as we are inside of it.  I'll leave you with a parting shot from Ray Kurzweil, a thought leader in the transhumanist movement:

"Our technology, our machines, is part of our humanity.  We created them to extend ourselves, and that is what is unique about human beings." -Ray Kurzweil

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