Misinformation in News Coverage of Professional and College Athlete Musculoskeletal Ailments



1 Dell Medical School

2 Dell Medical School -- The University of Texas at Austin


Background: The general population’s understanding of musculoskeletal health is likely influenced by media reports of the ailments of prominent athletes. We assessed factors independently associated with debatable or potentially misleading medical statements in mainstream sports media coverage of the ailments of professional and college athletes.
Methods: We identified and assessed 200 Internet media reports of musculoskeletal ailments of prominent athletes between February 19th and March 26th, 2018. We recorded medical statements about mechanism, diagnosis, treatment, and prognosis. We then classified those statements as accurate, debatable, or possibly misleading. We created a multivariable logistic regression model to identify factors independently associated with debatable or possibly misleading statements.
Results: Forty-five percent of statements were debatable or possibly misleading. Statements about diagnosis (Odds Ratio [OR]=0.17; P< 0.001), treatment (OR=0.33; P=0.007), or prognosis (OR=0.27; P=0.003) and statements about shoulder and elbow ailments were more likely to be inaccurate compared to statements about mechanism and statements about knee ailments (OR=3.3; P=0.04) respectively.
Conclusion: Coverage of sports ailments in the mainstream media are a common source of misinformation. Ailments of prominent athletes may represent a useful opportunity to teach people about musculoskeletal health.
Level of evidence: Not applicable.


Main Subjects