U.S. colleges and universities for the first time are requiring top student athletes to submit to testing for the gene for sickle cell anemia, a mandate aimed at preventing sudden deaths of promising young players but stirring deep fears about reviving dangerous old prejudices.
The screening hopes to identify athletes at high risk for life-threatening complications from intense physical exertion. That way, those with the gene could be monitored more closely and their training could be modified by, for example, allowing more time for rest and drinking more water.
But the prerequisite is evoking some of the most notorious episodes in the nation's history. While less known than the infamous Tuskegee syphilis experiment, for decades blacks were stigmatized by sickle cell because they carried it far more commonly than whites, marking them as supposedly genetically inferior, barring them from jobs, the military, insurance and even discouraging them from marrying and having children.