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North Carolina A&T Fires Official Over Sickle Cell Death

GREENSBORO N.C. — North Carolina A&T State University fired an athletics official and suspended a second after learning coaches were urged against testing potential athletes for the sickle cell trait two days before one died during a tryout.

The university fired associate athletics director Merlene Aitken and suspended top athletic trainer Roland Lovelace with pay, The News & Record of Greensboro reported Wednesday.

The newspaper reported earlier this month that a public records request uncovered an Aug. 17 e-mail from Lovelace to nine coaches and to Aitken asking coaches not to have student athletes tested until they were selected to a collegiate team.

“The reason for this is that the student health center is charging the athletic department for this test to be done,” Lovelace wrote.

An NCAA rule implemented Aug. 1 requires students trying out or participating in Division I sports to be tested for the blood trait, show proof of a test or sign a waiver.

N.C. A&T on Tuesday released a copy of a June e-mail from Benicia Cleveland, then the school’s sports medicine director, informing coaches about the upcoming NCAA rule change.

“Based on the June 10 e-mail, the athletics department should have known,” spokeswoman Nicole Pride said.

About 8 percent of the country’s Black population have the blood trait. They are at risk of red blood cells clumping during intense exercise into sickle shapes that block blood flow to muscles and cause them to break down rapidly.

Jospin Milandu, 20, of Knightdale collapsed during an Aug. 19 track team tryout. An autopsy determined Milandu died of complications of the sickle cell trait. He did not have a physical, a sickle cell test or an NCAA waiver on file.

The NCAA urged testing for the sickle cell trait after the disorder contributed to the deaths of 10 athletes since 2000. They included N.C. A&T football offensive lineman Chad Wiley in 2008 and Western Carolina football defensive back Ja’Quayvin Smalls in 2009.

The university did not explain why it failed to find the e-mail during an initial investigation into Milandu’s death.

“At no point did anyone reveal knowledge of the existence of the e-mail,” Pride said.

The university is negotiating a financial settlement with Milandu’s family, Pride said. The family’s attorney said an out-of-court resolution is not likely. “It wasn’t an accident,” Frank Johns said. “And the truth is that it’s defenseless.”

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