(WASHINGTON) - The American Society of
Hematology (ASH), the world’s largest professional society comprised of
physicians and scientists who research and treat blood disorders, strongly
opposes a policy approved this weekend by the National Collegiate Athletic
Association (NCAA) requiring Division III institutions to mandate screening for
sickle cell trait on all incoming student athletes. This policy is an expansion of a screening policy in Division I and II.
ASH believes the NCAA policy is medically groundless – perhaps even dangerous –
and is focused more on protecting the NCAA from legal liability than protecting
the health of student-athletes.
Sickle cell trait is a genetic condition in which
individuals carry a defective gene that can produce deformed red blood cells
that cannot deliver adequate oxygen to the body. While individuals with sickle
cell trait are generally able to enjoy normal life spans without serious health
consequences, under extreme conditions such as severe dehydration and high
intensity physical activity, they may experience serious, sometimes fatal,
The NCAA’s screening policy was developed in 2010 in response
to a settlement of a lawsuit by a family of a college football player who was
found to have sickle cell trait. The policy includes an opt-out provision for
students who can provide results from a prior test and for those who are
willing to sign a waiver of liability against the university and the NCAA.
After reviewing the medical literature and data and
convening a panel of experts, ASH developed a policy on screening for sickle
cell trait and athletic participation that opposes NCAA’s mandatory screening policy.
The ASH policy calls on NCAA instead to mandate athletics programs to adopt
universal preventive interventions in their training programs to protect all athletes
from exertion-related illness and death. While neither screening nor universal
precautions will provide complete protection, universal precautions will
mitigate risk and have no potential harm.
ASH sees serious flaws in the NCAA policy. The current NCAA policy is
both overly broad and insufficient. To save lives, screening needs to be
accompanied by effective preventive interventions. Additionally, the
current NCAA policy attributes risk imprecisely, obscures consideration
of other relevant risk factors, and can lead to stigmatization or racial
Since the release of ASH’s policy last January, the
Society has engaged in a dialogue with NCAA about how both organizations
can work together to protect athletes, and ASH looks forward to
continuing that relationship. There is a sound and viable alternative to
the NCAA plan, and it should be explored. It includes supporting further
research on the relationship between sickle cell trait and
exertion-related illness and having NCAA trainers, coaches, and athletic
departments educated on how to truly protect student athletes against
Reporters who wish to interview ASH
President Janis Abkowitz, MD, may contact ASH Communications Manager
Andrea Slesinski at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-552-4927.
The American Society of Hematology (ASH) (www.hematology.org) is the world’s largest professional society of hematologists dedicated to furthering the understanding, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of disorders affecting the blood. For more than 50 years, the Society has led the development of hematology as a discipline by promoting research, patient care, education, training, and advocacy in hematology. The official journal of ASH is Blood (www.bloodjournal.org), the most cited peer-reviewed publication in the field, which is available weekly in print and online.
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