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Fifteen athletes, most of them college football players, have died in the past decade from a condition that is benign in most circumstances. They were carrying the sickle cell trait.

Kourtni Livingston, a 14-year-old girl who played basketball for DeSoto High School near Dallas, died running laps outdoors in August 2002. Then University of Missouri linebacker Aaron O’Neal died during a voluntary workout in 2005. Devaughn Darling died shortly after complaining of dizziness and chest pains during off-season conditioning exercises in February 2001 at Florida State University. Experts have found that under conditions such as extreme exertion, high altitudes and hot climate, sickle cell trait is associated with a potentially deadly blood disorder called “sickling.”

In January, the National Collegiate Athletic Association is expected to decide whether it will be mandatory for colleges and universities to test athletes for sickle cell trait. But some experts are concerned that this could lead to athletes with the trait being singled out and excluded from sports.

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