NCAA Bylaw 17.1.5 mandates that each student-athlete have a medical examination prior to practicing or conditioning with a team in Divisions I and II. It has been left to the discretion of each member institution to test for sickle cell trait as a part of that examination. Beginning this fall, all Division I student-athletes will be required to be tested for sickle cell anemia before they will be allowed to participate in any practice or competition activities. The only exceptions to this new legislation will be for student-athletes who can show proof of a previous test, or sign a waiver releasing the university from liability if not tested.
In order to inherit the sickle cell trait, both parents must carry a sickle cell gene. That gene is most common among people with African, Spanish, Mediterranean, Middle Eastern and Indian ancestry. More than 2.5 million Americans have sickle cell trait.
According to Inside Higher Ed. eight college football players have died from complications related to sickle cell trait in the past decade. In 2006, 19-year old Dale Lloyd collapsed after being provided a nutritional supplement shake that contained creatine, and then ran 16 100-yard sprints. Creatine can cause dangerous side effects, including dehydration, headaches, kidney failure and rhabdomyoloysis, a breakdown of muscle fibers that causes the release of harmful substances into the bloodstream. Lloyd died the next morning.
Two months later, the Harris County Medical Examiner determined Lloyd’s death to be the result of “acute excertional rhabdomyoloysis secondary to sickle cell trait.” Lloyd’s parents were not aware that he had sickle cell trait. A wrongful death lawsuit against the University, the NCAA, head and assistant football coaches and others followed.
The most important thing for coaches and athletic trainers to understand is that after only two to three minutes of sprinting, an athlete with sickle cell trait can have an attack. Hopefully this new legislation will prevent any other student-athletes from losing their lives because they carried a silent deadly unknown trait.
NCAA Division I Manual. NCAA Division II Manual. Mayoclinic.org.
Recruitment Eligibility and Health of Intercollegiate Athletics. Elsa Kircher Cole, Vice President of Legal Affairs and General Counsel NCAA, February 24, 2009, Stetson College of Law, 30th Annual National Conference on Law and Higher Education.
Protocol decided for sickle cell testing. Apr 13, 2010 3:42:58 PM, Michelle Brutlag Hosick, The NCAA News.
Rare athlete deaths spur sickle cell testing. Associated Press, 6:02 pm EST, Mon. Aug. 3, 2009.