Amateur and professional sports leagues around the U.S. have rushed into an embrace of wearable technology in recent years, lured by the prospect of greater understanding of athlete bodies and the potential to detect illnesses earlier.
The NBA, in fact, has touted wearable rings during its bubble restart in Orlando that the league and the manufacturer claim with minimal scientific evidence to be able to tell if a player might have health indicators associated with COVID-19. Wearable technology also can track things such as heart rate, distance traveled, calories burned and body temperature.
But there are pitfalls to wearable technology in sports still not totally understood. A USA Today report Wednesday revealing alleged abuses within the Texas Tech women’s basketball program offered a reminder of what can go wrong when devices are turned against players and privacy lines are crossed.
Red Raiders coach Marlene Stollings and two assistants allegedly used results from mandated wearable heart-rate monitors to chastise and even publicly bully those who did not achieve desired results. Two players reportedly changed their pain management routine in secret so they could keep their heart rates up to satisfy the coaching staff.
“It was basically like a torture mechanism,” former Texas Tech player Erin DeGrate told USA Today. “I feel like the system wasn’t supposed to be used how she was using it.'”
At the NCAA level, universal health and safety guidelines are just now inching forward, far behind the standards of professional sports. Often, it’s up to individual schools to set protocols without sufficient oversight.
There are no player contracts in college sports, but the threat of reduced playing time or public admonishment over tracked health data could still make wearable technology a problem at that level. As devices spread further, incidents such as the alleged one at Texas Tech may become more common.
For pro leagues, teams using tracking data in contract negotiations present an additional potential abuse, though that has yet to be prevalent in the U.S.
Texas Tech’s problems went beyond wearable technology, according to USA Today, and included a toxic culture broader than an isolated misunderstanding of device boundaries, Among other things, Stollings allegedly confiscated a player’s dog because she said it was a distraction.
“Our administration and my staff believe in the way we are building and turning this program around here. Our student athletes are developing a disciplined approach both on and off the court,” Stollings said in a statement to USA Today.
Still, the wearable technology aspect of the report is an addition to the abusive leadership playbook, and one people should be cognizant of as sports continue to welcome smart devices into locker rooms.
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