According to an article posted on, from 2000-2009 at least 19 college football players died after engaging in a team sanctioned practice or workout. In addition, according to the same CBS article, 7 of these players were affected by the sickle cell trait. As technology has developed and these problems have come to the forefront more schools have started to test their student athletes for the sickle cell trait. These tests are intended to reduce potential workout related injuries and deaths.

What is the Sickle Cell Trait?

The sickle cell trait is a rare genetic trait that causes red blood cells to misshapen, or sickle, during times of intense physical exertion. These crescent, or “sickle”, shaped blood cells then disrupt the body’s vascular system, which in extreme cases keeps oxygen from reaching organs within the human body. In the most extreme cases oxygen is unable to reach the heart and the affected person can die of cardiac arrest.

In addition, the sickle cell trait is found in 8% of African Americans, which is greater than any other race.

Sickle Cell Trait Cause of UCF Football Player’s Death?

In 2008 Erick Plancher, a former University of Central Florida (“UCF”) and African American football player, died hours after participating in a team practice. Plancher’s parents have since sued UCF for Wrongful Death stemming from the actions football coaches took on that fateful day. Plancher, was affected with the sickle cell trait, which was a fact known to UCF trainers as he previously tested positive for the trait in tests performed by school doctors. This case is currently at trial.

At trial, Plancher’s former teammate, Anthony Davis, testified that Plancher gasped for breath, fell to his knees, and collapsed during what Davis described as an “intense” practice session. In addition, Davis testified that UCF Football Coach George O’Leary ordered all water and trainers away from the practice facilities that day and yelled obscenities at Plancher as he struggled through drills during practice.

The key to the Plancher’s wrongful death case is proving that the UCF coaches pushed their son to excessive limits despite knowing that Plancher had the sickle cell trait. Because trainers knew that he tested positive for the trait it is likely that the coaches knew as well. In addition, Douglass Casa, a certified athletic trainer at the University of Connecticut, testified that UCF athletic trainers did not respond properly to the suffering Plancher and Plancher should have been notified of the potential risks that accompanied his potentially fatal condition.

However, the school’s attorneys have since brought in a medical examiner who testified that the sickle cell trait was not the cause of Plancher’s death. Dr. Aziorides Morales, contends that the cause of Plancher’s death was instead a heart attack.

Consequently, the jury will have to determine the credibility of the witness testimony in this case.

What do you think? Does the teammate’s testimony pose an insurmountable obstacle for UCF? Shouldn’t coaches have a duty to act with increased care when dealing with players that have the sickle cell trait?