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August 24, 2011

It was a brief scare last week when freshman wide receiver Darius Patton collapsed/fainted during a non-contact practice drill.

He was taken to UPMC, where he regained consciousness and all his vitals were apparently normal. While he was kept there over night for observation, there appeared to be no major issue, and he was discharged on Friday.

“We hoped that he is doing well,” Todd Graham said yesterday. “We are very pleased that things are going well with that situation and that he is doing well.”

Graham did not give a timetable for when Patton might get back on to the field.

And since then, nothing.

I am assuming that Pitt is using federal student privacy laws to shield Patton from any inquiries, but it has struck me as odd that there hasn’t even been a mention by either beat writer about whether Patton has even been on the sideline. The only mention of Patton since the incident is in a post regarding new players who could have an impact this year.

Patton, who is from Poland, Ohio, has a lot of ability but he was slowed a little at the end of the week and is a player that Norvell said they would like to try and get ready to play this year. I’m not sure how much he will play because the receiver position is getting crowded. He is quick and has decent hands but has to get a little more physical.

Well, yes. I suppose you could say he was “slowed a little.”

What happened is unknown. It could have been something as simple as dehydration and the way it has been downplayed, it sure seems that is all it was. I am assuming it is not something as terrifying as relating to a sickle cell trait.

Let me be absolutely clear from this point on so there are no rumors, and I don’t get accused of spreading it. As far as I know Darius Patton does not have the sickle cell trait, and that was not the reason he collapsed at practice.

The fact that Patton’s absence is being shrouded in secrecy unfortunately fuels speculation.

I am using the Patton incident as a jumping off point to talk about sickle cell trait and an unfortunate tragedy from Coach Graham’s first year as a head coach.

The sickle cell trait, testing for it and having the coaches and players understand it is an important issue for player safety. If you followed the death and lawsuit of Erick Plancher at UCF; or Bennie Abram at Ole Miss, Devaughn Darling at FSU, or any of the 9 college football player who died due to the sickle cell trait since 2000.

The NCAA has mandated testing for the sickle cell trait starting this past April of all student athletes. They had been slowly pushing for schools to institute testing for a number of years.

Even if the NCAA hadn’t mandated testing, I have to believe Coach Graham would insist on such a thing. Graham saw one of his players collapse and die from this. It was in 2006 during his year as Rice Head Coach.

The Owls were conducting light workouts on Sunday when [Dale] Lloyd began to complain of feeling ill. He collapsed to the Rice Stadium turf at approximately 5 p.m., and was treated immediately by the training staff.

According to Del Conte, Lloyd was conscious when he was transported by a Houston Fire Department ambulance to Memorial Hermann’s emergency room, where his condition deteriorated through the night. Lloyd was pronounced dead at 8:49 a.m. Monday. The cause of death is pending an autopsy.

The autopsy revealed that Lloyd had the sickle cell trait, and he died from complications from it. That was a brutal event, and I have to imagine that thoughts of Lloyd ran through Coach Graham’s head when he got word that Patton had collapsed.

The Lloyd case became the catalyst for change with sickle cell trait testing and college athletics. As part of the settlement from the subsequent lawsuit, Rice and the NCAA agreed to push harder for schools to test student-athletes for the sickle cell trait (Rice did not test for it then, but even in 2006 about 64% of 1-A programs did on some level [pdf, pg. 87]). Indeed the NCAA has taken this issue seriously, which is why the mandate was issued.

Whether simply to try and avoid lawsuits or not, it should still be done. The increased testing and attention to sickle cell trait was one of the main objectives the Lloyd family brought the lawsuit. That would be the one positive thing from a tragic loss.

Being diagnosed with the sickle cell trait is not the end of a player’s career. It means, though, that the player, coaches and training staff have to be aware of the issue. Terrell Owens and Santonio Holmes are two NFL players known to have it.

It is also important to understand that the sickle cell trait is not tied to sickle cell anemia. The sickle cell trait, is a special genetic mutation that has a positive quality in certain regions of the world — and would explain why it occurs.

Long before sickle cell trait was linked to deaths, it was lauded as a miraculous gene mutation that protected the body against malaria.Africa and the Mediterranean region of Europe have the world’s highest rates of malaria exposure.

According to the National Institute of Health, 8 percent of African-Americans in the United States have the trait. Less than one percent of the non-African-American population here carries the trait, including Georgia head football coach Mark Richt’s son, David.

The numbers are much higher some places outside of the U.S. A study published in 2004 found about 30 percent of people living near the Congo in Africa had sickle cell trait. Other studies since then have found that about 10 percent of people in Jamaica and 15 percent of people in Haiti have the trait.

Common sense precautions are the best way to deal with it. The problem, though, is not just the coaches and athletic trainers who have to be made aware of the players at risk and overcoming old instincts to drive players harder. The fact is, that you are dealing with athletes.

“But there’s a reason these cases happen the most with college football players. There’s a reason it happens to the good kids who are trying so hard to please their coaches. There are a lot of people out there with the trait who have self preservation instincts, who stop when they don’t feel good. Their bodies recover on their own. It’s the people who don’t want to give up, who don’t want to be anything less than perfect. They’re the ones in danger if we don’t educate them and their coaches about the trait. They’re the ones who are dying.”

This is why the athletes themselves need to be made aware of it. They need to know as much about their own body — and the warning signs.





Very interesting stuff Chas. I admit that I would be one, that when I heard “sickle cell trait” it had something to do with the sickle cell anemia.

I can actually remember hearing about the sickle cell trait occaisionally over the years, and saying to myself, “look that up on the net”, and never remembered too.

Good stuff.

Comment by Dan 08.24.11 @ 10:33 am

Ryan Clark had his spleen and gall bladder removed due to playing in altitude at Denver a few years ago and nearly died. He also has the sickle cell trait.

Comment by TX Panther 08.24.11 @ 11:10 am

Wow, great reporting Chas.

Comment by steve 08.24.11 @ 11:46 am

Chas, a lot of interesting info but, of course, nobody should make any assumptions as yet. Note that Patton is freshmen reserve who may have been slotted for a redshirt even before his collapse .. and certainly just because there is no mention of his return doesn’t necessarily mean anything further.

I say the above because two STARTERS, D Street and C Saddler, returned to practice yesterday … and the only way I knew this was because it was listed in a Trib article yesterday, buried towards the bottom of the article. Like Patton’s collapse, there was much written about Street’s concussion (except for the fact that it was a concussion), yet very little mention of his return to action (at least that I could find.)

Comment by wbb 08.24.11 @ 11:56 am

wbb, I kept looking for things on Street last week, couldn’t find any, glad you mentioned it.

Comment by Dan 08.24.11 @ 12:35 pm

new FB Commit link to rivals.yahoo.com

Dan, look at attached under wide receivers
link to pittsburghlive.com

Comment by wbb 08.24.11 @ 12:47 pm

Just saying…if a player has a condition that is not a football related injury I doubt the team is permitted to talk about it for legal reasons unless given permission by the player. Obviously Streets injury could have been discussed but you may never hear what was wrong with Patton.

Comment by notrocketscience 08.24.11 @ 12:55 pm

Rushel Shell: “Just because I said I wanted to be on an average team doesn’t mean i’m going to Pitt” (h/t @ROOTSPORTSPIT )

link to twitter.com

Comment by JCE 08.24.11 @ 1:03 pm

Shell is going to Pitt. Bank on it.

Render is the second DE commit from Ohio. He’s the #8 rank DE in the state.

Can we now get another OL to commit…seriously?

Comment by TX Panther 08.24.11 @ 1:09 pm

Paging Mr Bisnowaty

Comment by BnG 08.24.11 @ 2:26 pm

Hopefully Shell is just saying this so maybe it will still be a surprise when he commits. It just doesnt make sense that he would consider Va. Tech, Bama, or Florida are considered “average” teams.

Comment by Dylan 08.24.11 @ 3:39 pm

Hey, people just faint sometimes. Glad the kid’s alright, I like him, I think he’s going to be something special for Pitt in the coming years.

Comment by dugdog 08.24.11 @ 4:51 pm

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