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High School Sports: What's the real story?

A team in the Brainerd Dispatch coverage area just won the state boys golf tournament. However, because of data privacy law, we are unable to report who it was.

Is that statement so far-fetched?

Try this one: An area doubles team won the section doubles title to advance to state. Whether they would be competing was uncertain because of data privacy law.

A similar paragraph was going to be put into my state tennis preview story Thursday until it was finally confirmed in an email by Craig Perry, associate director of the Minnesota State High School League, that they will compete.

Why wouldn’t they compete? Data privacy prevails.

Frankly, I don’t care why there was a question concerning their eligibility. For the purpose of the story I just needed to know if they were competing. It took numerous phone calls to the school district and emails to the MSHSL to confirm this information.

I’ve heard the rumors as to why their eligibility was in question and by now most people in the tennis community and in the school district they represent have found out, too.

What would have been wrong with a brief statement saying an athlete is not eligible for an event because they violated MSHSL or school district policy, especially in this instance? If they wouldn’t have competed in the state tournament for which they qualified, people would have realized it and wondered why.

I understand data privacy is important and even more so for minors, but no one was concerned about data privacy when a picture and story of this same doubles team ran in the May 25 sports section of the Dispatch.

Prior to confirming whether this doubles team would be competing, Perry first emailed me saying, “Data practice law prevents me from discussing student eligibility with you.”

This isn’t Perry’s fault and I’m not pointing my frustration toward him. He’s following MSHSL policy.

But if an injury prevents a key athlete from competing, we are probably told about it because that athlete’s absence could have an effect on the outcome of the event. But aren’t an athlete’s medical records protected by those same data privacy laws?

If a student-athlete breaks a rule and can’t participate, and their absence affects the outcome of an event, shouldn’t that be fair game to report, too?

If a team or athlete wins, the Dispatch writes about it. If a team or athlete loses, the Dispatch writes about it. But when an athlete mysteriously isn’t competing we are supposed to ignore it?

I don’t understand this law. I went to journalism school not law school, but this law only seems to be used, or referred to, in the best interests of a school district, not necessarily the individuals it was meant to protect.

My frustration comes from the fact that it is becoming more difficult to give readers the full story. For instance, in this situation, was the eligibility of both members of the doubles team in question? If only one would have been found guilty of breaking a state or school district rule how is that fair to the other athlete? It certainly would have appeared as if both were guilty, but because of data privacy I wouldn’t have been able to report if that was true or not.

I’m not trying to vilify student-athletes who break rules. These are children who are still learning their way in the world. We certainly don’t write about all the non-athletes who are stuck in detention or who are breaking laws. However, we also don’t praise or heap recognition on students who are not out for activities.

If you’re going to demand the good be printed and praised, then parents, student-athletes and school districts should accept the fact that the bad be given the same treatment and not hide behind data protection when it’s convenient.

After all, who is that really protecting?

JEREMY MILLSOP, sports writer, may be reached at 855-5856 or Follow on Twitter at

Jeremy Millsop
My career at the Brainerd Dispatch began May 11, 1999 after graduating from North Dakota State University. My areas of emphasis includes local high school sports, Central Lakes College, the lakes area golf mecca and once a year I dabble in the NHRA when the Lucas Oil Nationals come to Brainerd International Raceway.
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