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College Football Hit With Another Tragic Death

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The death of a Western Carolina University football player in a ↵voluntary offseason practice yesterday may not be sickle-cell related. ↵It's early, no medical inquiry has been done yet, and any number of ↵factors could have contributed to the death of Ja'Quayvin Smalls. What ↵it does remind me of is the sporadic but tragic yield of the college ↵football season: heat-related deaths that to some degree are ↵completely preventable, especially when it comes to players with ↵undiagnosed cases of sickle-cell anemia. ↵

↵The trait, which affects an estimated eight percent of the country's African-American population, causes a condition known as exertional ↵sickling. In as little as two minutes of intense exercise, red blood ↵cells can contort from their normal disc shape into a crescent shape, ↵or the sickle of the syndrome's name. This occludes blood flow in ↵athletes affected by sickle-cell anemia, and when this happens, ↵athletes in any sport can die very quickly. ↵

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↵This was precisely the case with Rice football player Dale Lloyd II, ↵who died in 2006 after a workout. Lloyd's death and the subsequent ↵lawsuit filed by his family got Rice to test all of their athletes for sickle cell; a similar ↵case changed policy at Missouri after the death of Aaron O'Neal in 2005. (It should be ↵mentioned that sickle cell in O'Neal's case was not the official cause ↵of death. Outside experts brought in at the trial did suggest it could ↵have been a contributing factor, however.) Sickle cell was also a factor in the death of UCF football player Ereck ↵Plancher, who collapsed and died following a March 2008 ↵conditioning drill. ↵

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↵The list goes on, but it really doesn't have to continue. Sixty-four percent of ↵schools in 2006 already tested for the trait; what the other 36 percent were ↵doing at the time in not testing is anyone's guess. The cost of a sickle cell test is around $40 total, far less than ↵the cost of a good pair of shoulder pads, and certainly less than the ↵attorney's fees from defending the inevitable negligence lawsuit filed ↵when a player with the trait dies in the care and custodianship of ↵your football program. It's not just good medical practice; in ↵litigious and cash-strapped times, it makes good economic sense for ↵universities, too. ↵

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↵That math is known. The tragedy of losing someone so young to ↵something that could be spotted with a blood test, however, is ↵incalculable. ↵

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This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.