On Adam Schefter, JPP, HIPAA and Social Media

On Adam Schefter, JPP, HIPAA and Social Media


On Adam Schefter, JPP, HIPAA and Social Media


Jason Pierre-Paul

Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul reportedly had surgery to amputate part of his right index finger stemming from a fireworks accident over the Fourth of July weekend. Normally you’d think the word “amputate” in connection with an NFL player would be a big deal in-and-of itself, but about an hour after the news came out, via ESPN’s Adam Schefter, “JPP” or some variant of his name wasn’t trending No. 1 on Twitter. Instead it was HIPAA — Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act — since Schefter attached a photo of Pierre-Paul’s medical records to his tweet about the news.

Twitter being Twitter, everyone with an account with an interest in sports seemingly became an expert on this portion of medical law. I’ll fully admit as the author of this post I’m not 100 percent certain on the intricacies of the law in question. When I initially saw Schefter’s tweet my eyes did a double take — did he really post that? Wouldn’t news of a prominent NFL player needing surgery from a fireworks accident suffice sans photo?

Thinking a little more about it — sorting through all the 140 character takes — it’s doubtful a reporter of Schefter’s prominence would do something like this wantonly. There’s also the thought, the info could have come from within Pierre-Paul’s camp, i.e. an agent and Schefter passed it along from there. As of Wednesday night, nobody knew and it’s all speculation, unfortunately.

The question shifts to reporting ethics. Namely, if Schefter simply tweeted out the news of the injury, saying it came from a “source” and didn’t post the picture of the medical chart would the word HIPAA have crossed anyone’s minds? It’s something to think about. As it stands, the person who passed along the information is the violator of the HIPAA, not Schefter nor ESPN, who are not health care providers or other covered entities under HIPAA. (Via Brian Stetler ESPN offered a brief statement, HIPAA does not apply to news organizations.”)

Remember this is Adam Schefter, he of 3.86 million followers who works for ESPN the Worldwide Leader in Sports. When it comes to NFL news his word — sans the help of pictures — is gold. Perhaps that spilled into why people immediately felt so upset about Schefter’s decision, feeling it was a move more in line with a seedy gossip/rumor site than ESPN, the biggest brand name in American sports.

The opinions on Twitter — as usual — were vast and varied. Pierre-Paul’s former teammate Lawrence Tynes, like many, wasn’t happy about the reporting:

NFL reporters offered differing opinions. CBS NFL insider Jason La Canfora questioned Schefter’s move:

Mike Freeman of Bleacher Report praised the reporting and said the blame doesn’t fall on ESPN:

Sports Illustrated sports law expert Michael McCann offered up some, needed, concrete information on the situation as it unfurled Wednesday night at 140-character per second speed:

I like Andy Glockner’s reasoned opinions here, especially the part about ESPN.

You can take the opinions of Mike Florio from Pro Football Talk however you like. On his site, Florio writes, “it’s likely that legal action will be taken against the person who leaked the document to ESPN.”

Complicating matters — or adding to the conspiracy theories — is the Giants withdrew their $60 million contract offer to Pierre-Paul on Monday, as it appears headed for the one-year franchise tag. Schefter followed up his tweet about the news (and medical chart) with this tweet:

Add it all up and … it’s a lot of shades of gray. We’ll all have to see where it goes — does Schefter explain his rationale for posting the picture down the road? Does Pierre-Paul sue someone at the hospital in Florida under HIPAA? Nobody knows, but everyone opined, which is no surprise.

Once again, a prominent NFL player who plays in New York of all places blew off part of his finger with a firework on July 4 and it remarkably became the buried lede. If that doesn’t sum up 2015 and where we are on social media, what does?

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