Do Journalists Have a Duty to Protect Concussed Athletes?

A glance at some of the sports headlines earlier this week revealed a potentially troubling trend in journalism that needs to be addressed.

The headlines focused on the pending return of University of Florida basketball player Michael Frazier III from the concussion he suffered Saturday when his head hit the knee of a teammate in a game against the University of Arkansas.4927126030_a8eefab460

In short, the headlines suggested that Frazier may return “soon” or be “available” Saturday, just a week after suffering the head injury. The problem lies in the fact that expectations were being set that Frazier “should” return to action. It may be one thing to suggest that with a high ankle sprain on bruised ribs. It is quite another to make that suggestion with a head injury. Frazier may actually feel like he can play. But if he hasn’t passed the requisite tests, he should remain on the sideline.

As a journalist, I can tell you that our responsibility is primarily to the readers. What do they want to read about? What do they want to know? That said, journalists do protect the participants in a story. The victim in a sexual assault case is an example. While journalists don’t have to shield the identity of a concussion  victim, they may want to include language about the difficult and delicate decision about when to release an injured player back to action.

UF head Basketball Coach Bill Donovan, to his credit, seems to get it, noting that “ there’s a protocol they all have to go through with the doctors and trainer, steps they’ve got to go through in order for him to be cleared.”

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