Monday, April 12, 2010

NCAA to Vote on Mandatory Genetic Testing

The N.C.A.A. will vote on a prosposal for mandatory genetic testing of all Divsion I athletes this week.  The move was sparked by recent surge  in deaths of college football players.  According to the New York Times, 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.

WebMd explains the science behind the sickle-cell trait. Sickle cell disease is inherited, which means it is passed from parent to child. To get sickle cell disease, a child has to inherit two sickle cell genes-one from each parent. When a child inherits the gene from just one parent, that child has the sickle cell trait. Having this trait means that you do not have the disease but you are a carrier and could pass the gene on to your children.




However, the measure isn't sure to pass.  The Sickle Cell Disease Association of America worries positive test results could lead to carriers being denied a chance to participate in athletics, and a previous measure failed after the Pac 10 and Big East Conferences opposed it.  A two-thirds majority is required to passed it.  Opponents worry about the cost and other more intensive testing for other conditions in the future.

Ryan Clark, a Pittsburgh Steelers's defensive back, has the most well-publicized case with the sickle-cell trait.  He had his gall bladder and spleen removed after a game in Denver due to complications with the trait and the high altitude; he was held out of a game against Denver in Week 8 last season.

This issue will open a Pandora's box, but that's the cost of big time college athletics.  There's already a perception that the N.C.A.A. exploits athletes, so it will be hard for this measure not to pass.  The argument about cost will fall on deaf ears from the public because college football and basketball generate billions of dollars in revenue each year.

In N.C.A.A., Question of Bias Over a Test for a Genetic Trait (NY Times)
Sickle Cell Disease Topic Overview (WebMd)