Professional Sports And Advanced Medical Testing: Unanswered Questions

Are professional athletes stuck in a catch-22?

From football, to basketball, to baseball and everything in between, it’s no surprise that we love our professional sports—so much so that we spend $56 billion to attend their events annually. It’s an enormous, highly lucrative business, and the players themselves are paid accordingly. 

Just recently, Chief’s quarterback Patrick Mahomes landed a 10-year, $500 million contract, the highest in football history. In just the 2019-2020 season, the NFL spent $5 billion in player salaries alone, followed by $3.6 billion in the NBA and $3.4 billion in the MLB.

For professional athletes, their business is their bodies; optimizing their performance is their goal. The faster they run, the better they throw, and the longer they play all increase their career value. 

But at what cost to their health? How much are these players’ careers valued over their individual lives?

Advancements in medical technology are creating new, critical, and yet to be answered questions.

Privacy

In the United States, part of a professional athlete’s contract includes disclosing any relevant health information to their coaches and team. For example, the NBA’s Uniform Player Contract states that players must: 

provide to the Team’s coach, trainer, or physician prompt notice of any injury, illness, or medical condition suffered by him that is likely to affect adversely the Player’s ability to render the services required under this Contract, including the time, place, cause, and nature of such injury, illness, or condition.” 

The NFL, NHL, and MLB all have similar requirements in their contracts as well. 

What these privacy regulations create, then, is a complex system of various stakeholders with varying interests in the health of the players. While a player may be concerned with their individual health, coaches, owners, and even team physicians are often more concerned with the “health” of the team overall.

From The Player’s Perspective

As employees compensated solely for their athletic achievements, professional athletes are always seeking ways to increase their longevity and improve their performance. The better they play, the more valuable they become. 

So it makes sense why these players would want to do everything in their power to seek out the most advanced and comprehensive health exams to help them achieve these goals. 

Like never before, innovations in medical technology can allow players to learn so much about their bodies and health, such as:

  • If they have a deficiency that’s impacting their immunity and slowing them down
  • How a personalized diet based upon their unique lab and bio-markers can improve their recovery time
  • What pain medication (if any) they should be taking based upon pharmacogenetics testing

Not only can these advanced executive health exams improve a player’s performance on the court or field, but they can also expand their lifespan and quality of life by providing invaluable information about their overall health, like:

  • Whether they are at risk for 50 different types of cancer from just a single drop of blood or currently have cancer using full-body MRI imaging
  • Insight into proactive lifestyle changes they should take based upon full genome sequencing
  • How to understand their minds and improve mental health performance and wellbeing from full psychiatric and mental health analyses

Unlike many, professional athletes actually have the financial ability to invest in these advanced exams (like EDISON BIO’s) to take control of their health. However, while an individual player might want and benefit from receiving this comprehensive understanding of their physical health, they could also be threatening their career in doing so.

Here’s the problem:

In many cases, players are contractually obligated to share health results with their team, no matter what they indicate.

Meaning by understanding more about their bodies—potentially uncovering life-threatening conditions like cancer early on—they are simultaneously putting their careers at risk.

From The Team’s Perspective 

Hiring professional athletes and renewing their contracts are high-stakes, multimillion dollar business decisions. In order to assemble championship teams, ownership and coaches must consider all of the information about the players available.

For example, imagine if ownership of an NFL team wants to renew their star quarterback’s multi-million dollar contract but this quarterback also wants to prioritize his overall health and decides to invest in a comprehensive, advanced health exam. If his results reveal anything concerning—such as a high risk for developing cancer in the next few years—the quarterback is then contractually obligated to share this (potentially life-saving) information with his coach, possibly costing him millions.

Unfortunately, this narrative is all too common in professional sports today and is increasing as innovative data-driven health technologies become more mainstream. Athletes are often left with a catch 22: prioritizing their careers or prioritizing their individual lives. 

Should professional athletes be forced to miss out on proactively caring for their bodies because it could impact career incentives?

Unanswered Questions

New advancements in healthcare technology in professional sports are creating an ethically questionable system at play that could cost players’ lives.

If players choose to receive the most advanced and innovative medical testing, they could be jeopardizing their careers. If they don’t, they could be jeopardizing their lives. 

Is it right for athletes to be deterred from prioritizing their health out of fear they may lose their jobs? 

Should winning really be considered more important than the health of the athlete? 

As advancements in medical technology from companies like EDISON BIO continue to develop and increase in accessibility in the coming future, professional sports will be faced with answering these questions and examining how these innovations impact the lives of their players overall.

About EDISON BIO

EDISON BIO expands human health potential by providing the most advanced executive health service focused on improving longevity and performance for the highest performing people on the planet. You can learn more about applying to be a member at  www.edisonbio.com

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