October 2007 Ethics Dunce

Ethics Dunces: The Sports Media and Rick Ankiel's "Privilege"

This one is a catch-up exercise. The Scoreboard was sick of all the steroid stories, but since it is now clear that they will not stop any time soon, this one cannot be ignored.

The event occurred in September. St. Louis Cardinals rookie outfielder (well, he's sort of a rookie) Rick Ankiel was hitting all sorts of game-winning homeruns in an amazing return to the majors years after his pitching career turned sour. His was the feel-good story of 2007, "The Natural" come to life. Then it was revealed that Ankiel had received the banned human growth hormone from Signature Pharmacy, an outfit implicated in the illegal shipping of performance-enhancing substances to athletes.

Ankiel's prescription came from an Internet doctor who has had more than one run-in with authorities. When the player was asked about what he was prescribed by the doctor and for what, Ankiel replied, "I'm not going to go into the list of what my doctors have prescribed for me. I've been through a lot emotionally and physically. There are doctor and patient privileges, and I hope you guys respect those privileges."

Whereupon all the reporters said, in effect, "Oh…right…doctor-patient privilege! You can't tell us about what you took! Sure thing, Rick! We understand!"


The doctor-patient privilege means that a doctor can't be compelled to reveal his treatment for a patient. It doesn't stop the patient from revealing anything he chooses to reveal. Ankiel was the patient. Doctor-patient privilege has nothing to do with what the reporters can ask Ankiel and what he chooses to answer. Sure, one's medical records are private, just as most of the things celebrities and politicians tell us about their lives every day are private…but they can choose to reveal them if they wish. And when the issue is whether an athlete cheated in a sport, he should reveal those private matters, because they now have public implications.

But because the media, and not just the sports media either, is so stunningly, inexcusably ignorant of the most basic ethical principles, Ankiel actually ended inquiries by citing a privilege that didn't apply to his situation. What he really said was, "No comment."

Bill Clinton must be kicking himself. If he had only said, "As you know, I can't talk about my relationship with Miss Lewinski because of the mistress-philanderer privilege," the reporters would have probably bought it.

Dunces. Ethics Dunces.

All of them.




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