Posted on April 12, 2010

In N.C.A.A., Question of Bias Over a Test for a Genetic Trait

Katie Thomas and Brett Zarda, New York Times, April 11, 2010

Twenty-one college football players have collapsed and died as a result of training over the past decade. At least eight were carriers of the sickle-cell trait, a genetic disorder that can unpredictably turn deadly during rigorous exercise.

A blood test to screen for the trait costs about $5, and many university team doctors and athletic trainers support compulsory testing, arguing that it could save lives.

Yet a proposal to make such testing mandatory for all N.C.A.A. Division I athletes is not a sure bet to pass when it comes up for a vote by member conferences as early as Monday in Indianapolis.

The measure is questioned by the Sickle Cell Disease Association of America, which argues that athletes should know their own status but raises concerns that those with the trait could be denied the chance to compete. {snip}


People with sickle-cell trait have one abnormal hemoglobin gene and typically lead normal lives–many do not even know they are carriers. The trait is found in about 8 percent of African-Americans, but in less than 1 percent of white Americans. Those with two mutated genes are said to have sickle-cell disease, which can cause a lifetime of health problems like severe pain, anemia, stroke and damage to tissue and organs.