Last week, Adam Schefter broke news that Jason Pierre-Paul had his right index finger amputated after an accident with fireworks during a Fourth of July celebration. He took the controversial step of tweeting a picture of Pierre-Paul's medical chart while doing so and the story shifted from "JPP gets finger amputated" to "what the hell is Schefter doing?"
Was Schefter wrong? Or right? Or are there no value judgements whatsoever to be made from it all?
Sean "Always Right" Newell: I don't want to say we are entering a Brave New World, but we are kind of entering a Brave New World. Schefter didn't break any laws when he posted two pictures of Jason Pierre-Paul's private medical records, but there is a reason everyone flipped their shit when he did. That reason is because it feels gross. It was totally unnecessary—when have you ever not believed something Adam Schefter said—and added nothing to the story. Which, if you'll recall, is that Jason Pierre Paul had to get a finger amputated because he was fucking around with fireworks.
Do I believe JPP had to get his finger amputated after fucking around with fireworks? Yes, that it is a completely reasonable outcome. Do I need photographic evidence of his surgery? Nah, man.
So I think everyone sort of had this visceral reaction that publishing the records was just not right. It was one more sacrifice to the NFL's domination of the news and this weird obsession we all have with literally every bit of football related minutiae.
Aaron "Never Wrong" Gordon: Part of why it felt so gross is because of how vague Schefter left it. "Obtained by ESPN" had to be the most useless phrase uttered in NFL history outside of a Peter King column or Troy Aikman commentary. If an ESPN employee shares the records, I can safely assume they have been obtained. But it didn't tell us anything about how. My mind immediately jumped to Schefter buying scrubs, wearing a full operating mask and cap and loitering around the hospital all day until he could "hack" into the database to snap the key evidence while humming the Mission Impossible theme song to himself. We couldn't rule it out!
That is, until Schefter spoke to Richard Deitsch of SI and clarified the whole thing. Sadly, Schefter is not some Gene Parmesean-esque snoop. A hospital employee sent it to him unprovoked. As Deadspin noted, it's very unlikely the hospital will ever find out who leaked the records, since virtually anyone in the hospital could access them. Whether Schefter knew it or not, he wasn't putting the leaker in any serious jeopardy, and this information will come out sooner or later unless JPP planned to attach a new finger made out of Playdough.
The initial reaction was motivated by creepiness that didn't have to exist. It was just Schefter being needlessly vague that made the whole thing feel like an invasion of privacy. But, if you believe that, you'd have to convince me why this invasion of privacy is worse than, say, Schefty reporting someone tore his achilles in an offseason basketball game. Can you?
Sean "Always Right" Newell: First things first, Schefter totally runs exactly like Tom Cruise. There is not a doubt in my mind. Less importantly, yeah, I think there is a definite line to be drawn between the news item and the way in which it is passed around, or supported. On a human level, it is sort of weird that we feel entitled to know the exact nature of an athlete's injury, and how long he'll be out, his rehab, all of that. But we've gotten to the point where that is just the nature of the beast. No one is out in these streets arguing that Schefter shouldn't have reported what he found out. It's just the way he went about it seemed more invasive and, again, unnecessary. I can't stress enough how little we needed to see that chart, despite what Schefter claims is the logical outgrowth of cynicism in the media world.
I think you're probably right about the vagueness, too. The obvious first person POV-ness of the pictures only made it that much more reasonable to jump to that Mission Impossible conclusion.
To answer your question about whether this is any worse, though, it absolutely is because it has now moved the line for what is acceptable in reporting already pretty personal information. We all laugh about the vagueness of hockey's "upper body injury" but why is that so wrong? As a sports fan, I don't have any real need to know the specifics of an injury other than that it happened and he or she will be out for a certain period of time. That's not the way it works anymore though—mostly because of gambling—and we've all sort of made peace with that. But now I'm wondering if this will be another moment that further chips away at the idea of athletes as regular human beings. So I guess my question to you is, why do you hate human beings?
Aaron "Never Wrong" Gordon: I think it's pretty self-evident why everyone should hate human beings. Anyways, I'm not sure I buy your slippery slope argument, mostly because slippery slope arguments are invalid, according to the nerds at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. I don't think we'll be seeing medical records for ACL tears or torn pectorals or whatever. Maybe if, like, Manziel bursts a nut under mysterious circumstances then an enterprising hospital employee will send along the photo (of the records, not the burst nutsack, I hope) as proof.
I think you're right that, given Schefter's standing in the "someone sends me news and I tweet it" industry, few would have questioned his reporting. And I'm certainly sympathetic to your argument that this will further dehumanize athletes in a subtle yet meaningful way.
To be honest, the thing I keep coming back to here is not Schefter's role, but that of the anonymous employee who leaked the info. Why did he/she do this? One question Dietsch didn't ask Schefter was if ESPN paid for the material. If they did, well, then we know why this went down the way it did. If they didn't, why would this person leak the info? It has some scary implications on what hospital employees believe to be ethical behavior or matters of public interest. After all, this person didn't do it for the notoriety or 15 minutes of fame. They just did it because they thought people should know. I don't think it's Schefter's job to be the gatekeeper here, which is why Schefter isn't the one whose behavior should concern us.
Sean "Always Right" Newell: Slippery slopes are problematic, for sure, but I'm not very concerned about this one because we are already sliding. I never once thought I would see a tweeted image of a player's medical chart, and yet here we are. And everyone is pretty much OK with Schefter doing it, which is just incredibly weird. This is a weird thing to be OK with a person doing, but Schefter is rightly not at fault. Even writing that is strange.
As to how he got it, I do think people are very enamored with the idea of helping celebrity reporters. If Schefter was in the hospital, and some random employee recognized him, I would not be surprised at all if they thought to themselves it would be cool to be the person who broke a story, snapped the pictures, and approached him. It's kind of funny that in all this discussion about dehumanization, that it was most likely a basic human flaw that led to this whole thing: our own self interest. If everything Schefter said is true, which I believe it to be, he was approached by someone with the pictures. I don't think he was approached by this person because he or she thought it was important that the world knew that Jason Pierre-Paul had his finger amputated. It was the intoxication of helping ESPN Insider Adam Schefter. Schefter only broke the news because of me, that person might say to friends and family.
And it's definitely not Schefter's job to look at those pictures and say "hard pass." It is in fact the exact opposite of his job. The only thing that makes me uncomfortable about Schefter's role is that he didn't really think about whether he should tweet the chart. He didn't ask any of his superiors or colleagues, he just tweeted it. That is scarily robotic, and 100 percent Schefter.