Injuries bring up moral dilemma for local coverage

In Week six of the football season just ended, I was faced with a moral and ethical quandary.

News Advocate sports writer Brian Fogg was covering the Brethren/Bear Lake football game, which ended prematurely due to what looked like a very serious injury to Laker senior Daniel Aguilar, who was immediately taken to the hospital.

To be honest, I didn’t know exactly how to report the injury. I still don’t know if I did the right thing.

The details of the extent of Aguilar’s injury were not immediately available, and for good reason. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, popularly known as HIPAA, protects the privacy of people’s medical information, among many other things.

When I called Bear Lake athletic director Karen Leinaar, who is on the shortest of lists of the best AD’s I have ever dealt with, she could not help me. HIPAA prevented her from releasing any information on Aguilar’s condition, and she, quite correctly, gave me none.

Frankly, I’m not sure what I would have done with the information even if she was able to provide it.

In the story of the game Friday night, I decided that this paper would not name Aguilar, nor would we report what little we knew of the details of the injury. I chose to stick to the subject, which was a football game.

Since moving here a couple of years back, I have come to understand how important high-school sports are to this community. But I also have the perspective to realize how important they are not.

The injury could have been a life-altering event for the young man, the gravity of which far outweighs that of the result of the game in which it occurred.

As journalists, our first instinct is to find out information and report it. That’s what we do. A free press is a cornerstone of any free society, and while sports writing is not nearly as essential as actual journalism, those of us who do it still feel a fundamental obligation to inform our readers.

The main question in this case is: What good would it do?

I did not want to trivialize the injury or the effect it may have had on the young man’s life. Even as I type this, with some time to reflect, I don’t know which would have been worse to that end, reporting it in the context of a game story, or not reporting it at all.

I thought of reporting the incident as a separate story, but we simply did not have enough information to go that route.

I also do not want to intrude on the lives of those most affected by the injury, Aguilar himself and those closest to him.

On the other hand, in a tight-knit community like Bear Lake, the people of that community would certainly want to know the extent of a serious injury to one of their own, and unless my assessment of this place is completely inaccurate, their thoughts would immediately turn to how they can help.

I am sure that many of you, dear readers, have an opinion on that, and if you are so inclined, please drop me a line to express it. I am also sure that there are valid, strongly held opinions that oppose each other. As with so much else in life, there is no clear answer, no obvious right and wrong here.

That’s the quandary.

Most importantly of all, I hope the young man is going to be all right. I believe that we all agree on that.

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Posted by Scott Yoshonis

Scott is the sports editor of the Manistee News Advocate. You can reach him at (231) 398-3112 or syoshonis@pioneergroup.com.

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