College football, sickle cell can be deadly combo

Rachel George, Iliana Limón and Shannon J. Owens of the Orlando Sentinel look at college football players whose deaths have been linked to sickle cell trait.

Overwhelmingly in the past 11 years, more non-traumatic football deaths have occurred from complications from sickle cell trait than any other cause. It has accounted for nine of the 21 non-traumatic deaths in that time despite the trait existing in just 8 percent of African-Americans. It accounts for an even lesser extent in Hispanics, Caucasians and other ethnicities. And while the trait has been linked to deaths in other sports and at other levels, it has affected a much greater number of college football players.

Many doctors, coaches and trainers wonder what factors push a “generally benign” trait into a dangerous medical condition. George outlines some of the factors, such as coming back to training after a break, the kinds of drills athletes do, heat and hydration, altitude and more.

In the stories, doctors, coaches and former players discuss why football accounts for 82 percent of the cases in the U.S. National Registry of Sudden Death in Athletes.

The story includes NCAA materials about sickle cell trait and a graphic of the difference between normal blood cells and sickle cells. In a related story, Owens reports that “every baby in the United States is tested for sickle cell trait at birth, many athletes who’ve had it either didn’t know or didn’t understand what it meant.” In another story, she talks to parents of a child born with sickle cell trait who say they didn’t get information about the potential fatal complications.

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