Blog Entry

NCAA sickle cell testing debated

Posted on: January 26, 2012 3:10 pm
Edited on: January 26, 2012 3:11 pm

The American Society of Hematology issued a policy statement Thursday opposed to the current NCAA mandate that requires schools to test athletes for sickle cell trait.

The policy statement conflicts with that NCAA testing policy that is not yet two years old. For decades, the association had not tested for sickle cell trait but changed its stance as part of a settlement of a lawsuit over the death of a Rice athlete in 2006.

The NCAA requires that all athletes be tested for the condition unless they provide prior test results or sign a waiver. In a Thursday press release, the hematology society contended that “current scientific evidence does not justify screening.” It says that “universal preventive interventions” make testing unnecessary.  The society stated further that the Army uses such measures as heat acclimatization, hydration and work-rest cycles to deal with all situations regarding exertional issues.

Scott Anderson, Oklahoma head trainer and noted expert on sickle cell trait, countered: “Their [recommended] precautions are not working for individuals with sickle cell trait …”

Sickle cell trait is not a disease. It is a condition found in approximately eight percent of African-Americans and in a much smaller percentages of Caucasians.  Anyone with the condition can live a normal life. About two million Americans live with the trait. Problems occur when blood cells “sickle” due to overexertion.

Thursday’s policy statement seems to make public a large disagreement between organizations on how to treat the affliction. The hematology society said its position is supported by the Sickle Cell Disease Association of America, American Society of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology, American Public Health Association and Association of Public Health Laboratories.

That differs from the approach taken by the NCAA, NBA, NFL and the military academies aside from the Army.

Oklahoma has had major award winners play with the condition. But because of Anderson and his research, afflicted athletes are acclimated to heat and exertion over a period of days at the beginning of spring and fall practice. Testing becomes a further safeguard.

Several high-profile deaths caused by the condition have occurred in recent years at Missouri, Florida State, Central Florida and Rice.  
Anderson added that the NBA, NFL, Navy, Marines and Air Force do screen for sickle cell trait. In results published recently in Health Services Research Journal, it was estimated there would be one death in the NCAA if every athlete were tested over a four-year period. Without testing, the research concluded that seven players would die over a 10-year period.

Anderson said that 2011 was believed to be the most deadly year for athletes nationally regarding sickle cell trait since 2000. Not all of the deaths have been confirmed to be caused by sickle cell trait, Anderson added. It is known that sickle cell trait has been the leading cause of non-traumatic deaths among Division I college football players since 2000. The NCAA changed its policy in 2010 after lawsuit brought by the family of Rice football player Dale Lloyd. The association promised to require testing and increase awareness.

“When you look at kind of objectively, this was prompted by a lawsuit,” said Dr. Janis Abkowitz, president-elect of the hematology society. “We’re not against the NCAA … We hope that we could provide information to the NCAA in rethinking both the correctness of the initial policy, but also some of its downstream unintended policy.”

Dr. Abkowitz said the NCAA plans to extend its policy to Division II and Division III athletes, “every high school kid that is interested in sport would be tested and confused.” She want on to call it a “huge network of misunderstanding”. The society notified the NCAA before releasing its statement.

“We’re not out for a battle, we’re out to be helpful,” Dr. Abkowitz said.

In February 2010, Ole Miss player Bennie Abram died of complications resulting from sickle cell trait. The school, the NCAA and other entities are being sued by Abrams’ family. The death took place just as the NCAA was changing its policy.






Since: Aug 20, 2007
Posted on: February 1, 2012 10:19 am

NCAA sickle cell testing debated

They already test for tons of other conditions that could cause death when playing sports.. sickle cell trait should also be tested for, in everyone, not just black athletes.

Forget waivers.. they are worth nothing, and you'll wind up with a very physically talented young person that has the trait and his parents knowingly push him because they want him to wind up playing pro sports.. and when he dies as a result, they'll sue the university and the NCAA. 

Since: Jan 29, 2012
Posted on: January 29, 2012 8:08 am

NCAA sickle cell testing debated

Isn't this a test that should be given to those students who are at risk, regardless of their being an athlete or not? Require all entering students at risk to have the test as part of a medical exam prior to university admission. I understand the unfortunate death of the young man at Rice, but once again the rush to Cover Your A$$ has replaced any sanity. Since there is absolutely no link between athletic ability and a condition some are born with, any attempt to link university athletes make no sense. The colleges do a pathetic job in testing for performance enhancing drugs as it is, now some propose to force the schools, many of which can't afford the expenses of their team programs, to spend more, not with the idea of helping anyone but to avoid law suits. HUH?

Since: Aug 29, 2006
Posted on: January 26, 2012 9:59 pm

NCAA sickle cell testing debated

The state of Connecticut tests infants, at birth, in the hospital.
Mississippi tests teenagers, after they die, in the morgue.

Everyone should take responsibility for themselves.  Everyone should be tested, probably every 3-5 years; everyone should've been educated in school; I know I was.  Everyone should know their family history; and when they get married, they should know the risk of their offspring inherit the trait.  And, no one should depend on the government to help them.  Take responsibility for yourself! 

Since: Mar 7, 2007
Posted on: January 26, 2012 5:36 pm

NCAA sickle cell testing debated

The ASH is wrong in this case. If an athlete is unaware of a health problem, they can't take precautions. In Oklahoma all HS athletes must have an EKG before they are allowed to participate. Most past the test and the few that fail can start receiving medical care for a problem that can be managed and live a long life. <br />

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