Biometric Testing Enters the National Basketball Association

By Gillian Christie

August 2014 marked the final sale of the Los Angeles Clippers to Steve Ballmer, the former Chief Executive Officer of Microsoft. Approximately a third of majority owners in the National Basketball Association (NBA) now trace their roots to the technology industry.

It therefore comes as no surprise that technology is revolutionizing the NBA. While players have realized that on-court productivity could be undermined by off-court decisions, the emergence of personalized health technology has enabled the quantification of on- and off-court behaviors. Personalized health technology can be used by NBA players, coaches, and executives to track sleeping patterns, physical movements, and diet as well as to test blood. As Dr. Leslie Saxon, Executive Director of the Center for Body Computing at the University of Southern California notes, the NBA is leading society into the biometric revolution.

Data from personalized health technology can entail notions of “Big Brother”, a fictional character in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, in which every citizen is under constant surveillance by authorities. Shane Battier, former NBA player, contends that: “When I left the gym, I left my work. When people start to talk about testing in the confines of the bedroom and your home, I think that’s taking it a little bit too far in an area that the NBA frankly doesn’t need to know about. I’m all for data… but it does not need to extend to the home.”

To overcome potential consequences associated with personalized health technology, the Vitality Institute is working with the Institute of Medicine to host a workshop on the ethical, legal, and social implications of data from personalized health technology. This is an output from the Vitality Institute’s Commission on Health Promotion and the Prevention of Chronic Disease in Working-Age Americans that was launched in June 2014.


How is your organization addressing challenges associated with the collection, use, and sharing of health data? Are you familiar with other examples where biometric information is being collected? Tweet at Gillian @gchristie34 or at the Vitality Institute @VitalityInst

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