Football’s Next Frontier: The Battle Over Big Data

When Giants linebacker Devon Kennard wakes up each morning, he checks his phone to see what the day might hold. He’ll have text messages and emails, of course, but what Kennard really cares about are his sleep stats: Did he hit his eight-hour target? How good is his recovery score? And, most importantly, how hard can he push his body today?

If knowledge is power, NFL players may have just shifted the balance between them and the league over control of their own bodies. On April 24, the NFL Players Association announced a five-year partnership with WHOOP, a wearable device company that can track the health and performance data of the league’s athletes.

Players will be given a WHOOP Strap 2.0 device that can be worn on their wrist, forearm or bicep. It’s designed to monitor the strain they put on their bodies and how well they recover between games or workouts. For now, the league is unlikely to permit players to use it during games (more on that later). According to the NFLPA and WHOOP, the players—not the league—will control the data and have the opportunity to sell it to third parties. The theory behind using WHOOP is that the information should help players avoid overtraining, reduce injury, perform at their best, and even enjoy healthier lives after retirement.

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