Sickle Cell Screening for Student-Athletes

DUBUQUE, Iowa- A new NCAA mandate throws a curveball at dozens of Duhawk athletes.

It all began in 2006, when a freshman football player at Rice University collapsed after an intense workout and died. Cause of death? Sickle cell—which has led to the deaths of at least ten student-athletes since 2000. Those deaths have led to lawsuits—pushing the NCAA to mandate Sickle Cell Screening for all student-athletes, including Division III.

Many athletes were unaware this screening had become a NCAA requirement, as sophomore basketball player Kaitlin Phillips explains, “They talk about asthma or stuff like that, that affects athletes more; and I knew that it does affect athletes… just never thought it applied to me.”

Many athletes we spoke with feel the same way—is this test really necessary because the trait is so rare? About 8 percent of the black population in the U.S. carries the trait—the risk is lower for Latinos—and even lower for the white population. The risk is so low; the Army stopped requiring this test. Loras hasn’t had any issues with regards to sickle cell, but is complying with the NCAA mandate.

Assistant Athletic Trainer, Adam Burke, stresses the importance of preparation, “We want to just make sure everyone’s taking the proper precaution if they do have the trait.”

Nearly 40 athletes came to campus ready to compete—only to find out that their physical hadn’t included the proper sickle cell screening. Some went back to their doctor’s; others opted for the NCAA waiver option. Through signing the waiver, an athlete acknowledges they are aware of what sickle cell is and the risk they are taking by not getting screened. This year’s waiver process includes an educational video; however, next year the requirements will be stricter.

Athletic Director Bob Quinn assures this mandate, “[Is] not an effort to protect the NCAA; it’s an effort to protect our student athletes.” Loras and the NCAA want to take every step to assure everyone is playing their sport, and doing so in a safe way.

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