Saturday, February 7, 2009

A Question for Sports Illustrated about Alex Rodriguez: Whatever happened to Doctor-Patient Confidentiality?

A Question for Sports Illustrated about Alex Rodriguez: Whatever happened to Doctor-Patient Confidentiality?

By Evan Weiner

February 7, 2009

5:00 PM EST

(New York, NY) – There is a huge problem that is being overlooked in the whole Alex Rodriguez allegedly testing positive for steroids use in 2003 saga that once again the media is missing. Someone violated doctor-patient confidentiality privilege by leaking the story that Alex Rodriguez tested positive after being administered a drug test. Drug testing is a medical procedure and if sports organizations really wanted to make an example of players violating United States drug laws as using steroids without a doctor’s permission is illegal, they would turn in all of the players who failed steroids tests to law enforcement officials and let the players go through the judicial system. Then they would turn in the doctor or the person on the staff who leaked medical information to the media.

Instead there have been United States Congressional hearings, which have been a mega media events, grandstanding politicians and oh yes Roger Clemens testimony before Congress which is still being fought.

There is bread and circuses for the population, fodder for comedians yet no one takes the violation of doctor-patient confidentiality privileges under consideration. That is the ethical question that Sports Illustrated and now other news organizations will not take up.

They should, they might sell newspapers or get more viewers if they treated their audiences like adults instead of a crowd at a comedy club.

The argument, of course, is that Alex Rodriguez is a celebrity and that he appeared during an interview segment with Katie Couric on the United States CBS television show “60 Minutes” denying he ever took steroids and human growth hormones and that all is fair when it comes to reporting on Alex Rodriguez. But Sports Illustrated by reporting that Alex Rodriguez failed a drug test has breeched the doctor-patient relationship as did the sources who provided the story to Sports Illustrated.

There will be a familiar cry that the public has the right to know. The public doesn’t have the right to know about Alex Rodriguez drug tests. He is a baseball player, nothing more, nothing less. An entertainer in the eyes of some. That also brings up numerous questions that have not been answered in the nearly four years since a who’s who of baseball players appeared before Congress on St. Patrick’s Day 2005.

Why are just athletes signaled out in the probe of steroids use?

In 2005, Congressman Cliff Stearns of Ocala didn’t like a piece I wrote for the Orlando Sentinel and called the editorial department to express his outage at my criticism. Four years later that criticism still stands. I wanted to know why United States professional athletes were the only ones in the spotlight and why Congress was not going after TV networks and advertisers who were using actors and actresses who clearly were on steroids and human growth hormones, particularly on soap operas.

Congress had hearings partially because they felt athletes were sending out the wrong message to teenagers back in 2005 and the hearings were directed at that segment of the populace.

I wrote, “Why is Congress concentrating solely on major-league professional sports leagues in its quest to educate youngsters about the health risks of using performance-enhancing drugs?

If the two congressional committees really wanted to go after steroid usage among teenagers, Stearns and his colleagues should have broaden their horizons. If they think it's only jocks who are taking banned substances, they are wrong. American teenagers seem to come in two varieties: those in shape and those out of shape. Both may be using steroids, ephedra and other substances not because they want to hit a baseball farther, run a 100-yard dash in record time or block better on the gridiron, but because they want to look good.

Their entire lives, those teenagers have been bombarded with ads telling them to look good to attract members of the opposite sex. Just look at beer commercials, car commercials, magazines, movies and TV shows aimed at young people. The good-looking people with the good bodies get the good-looking girls or guys.

Committees should be bringing in muscle, fitness and other magazine editors along with advertising, TV and movie executives and various image-makers to explain their messages to young people.

They should ask why young girls are taking steroids to control their weight. Some government and university studies contend that about 5 percent of high-school girls and 7 percent of middle-school girls admit trying anabolic steroids at least once, and usage has been rising steadily since 1991.

Stearns was irate and answered back but his words didn’t match his fury at me. In fact, the Congressman was rather benign in his response.

“I am a sports fan,” he wrote in the Sentinel. “I enjoy watching sports and, when I have the opportunity, I enjoy the exertion and fun of athletic competition. Every two years, the nations of the world focus on the athletic excellence of the Olympics. Sports transcend language and culture -- they are embraced by all of mankind.The performances of the great players and great teams -- their victories, records and careers -- capture the honesty and integrity of sports and heighten the ideal that sports honor success based on merit and talent.Yet, the use of steroids in sports is undermining the notion of talent in the athlete and integrity in the sport.Steroids are the tools of the cheater. Not only do these performance-enhancing drugs undermine the legitimacy and integrity of all sports, they are illegal. Their use is a misdemeanor punishable with up to one year in jail. Distribution of steroids is a felony punishable by up to five years.Our elite athletes are role models for America's youth, and these children see and hear what their heroes do. While some adults look the other way at obvious steroid use in professional sports, young athletes see steroids as a shortcut to improving their game.I held my first hearing on performance-enhancing drugs in sports in 2003. This year, I also held the first hearing specifically dealing with steroids in sports.At that hearing, we heard testimonies from medical and athletic experts who outlined the health problems of steroids and the extent of steroid use, including among high-school athletes and younger students.We listened to the testimony of a father whose son killed himself after taking steroids to improve his performance in high-school baseball.Is this an issue for Congress?Yes, the health and safety of our children and athletes makes this a federal issue, as does the fact that it is a crime.The federal government provides funding for the World Anti-Doping Agency, which monitors the Olympic sports, and we should apply the same standards to professional athletes.Since my subcommittee has jurisdiction over this issue, I offered the Drug Free Sports Act. It requires the major professional-sports leagues to adopt a single uniform testing standard modeled on the Olympic standards, as well as setting tough penalties for steroid use.The commissioners of the sports leagues and the directors of the various players' associations provided their views on my bill, which was endorsed by Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig and NBA Commissioner David Stern. Approved in my subcommittee, it next goes to the full committee for consideration.Professional athletes command high salaries and attract the spotlight of public attention. By focusing on professional sports, my bill makes them the platform for enunciating, loud and clear, that taking steroids is cheating, illegal, unhealthy and can end careers. This would represent a major step in reaching athletes and students thinking about taking steroids.”

There was no one word in there about other entertainment forums, like soap operas, which feature beefy men, like beer commercials and other ads. Nope, just about sports figures and there was nothing in their about doctor-patient privileges.

It is all very troubling. The media spotlight is on Rodriguez, he allegedly sells papers or gets attention on TV and radio. The United States media is broken and needs more than dishing dirt on Alex Rodriguez. Come to think of it, perhaps a series on doctor-patients and ethics might sell more newspapers or an investigation into other forms of entertainment and whether those performers are juiced could be a compelling story that Congress should take up. But wait, why should we go into those issues when Alex Rodriguez can be the center of attention of Joe Torre’s book or Page Six of the New York Post or fodder for late night comedians? The media is giving the people what they want, just ask Time Warner and Sports Illustrated bosses, as Don Henley pointed out in his song Dirty Laundry, We all know crap is king, Give us Dirty Laundry.

Alex Rodriguez has plenty of “Dirty Laundry” but the real question that needs to be asked has not been asked. Why is it okay for Sports Illustrated to get sources that are willing to break the doctor-patient confidentiality privilege? That needs an answer.

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