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Jerraud Powers Encourages Others To Speak Out About Sickle Cell Disease

October 6, 2016
Despite the effects of having the sickle cell trait, Atlanta Falcons running back Tevin Coleman is going to play in Denver Oct. 9.

Earlier this week, Coleman spoke about the possibility of not playing against the Broncos at high altitude, but he ultimately decided he could consult with the medical personnel during the game if he experienced any issues. The second-year back does not have sickle cell disease but is a carrier of the trait. His willingness to speak up about the issue was appreciated by a Baltimore Ravens player who deals with the same concern.

"I think it was good that he came out and said it," Ravens cornerback Jerraud Powers said. "Because a lot of people are not aware that the trait can flare up and cause a problem."

Powers discovered he was a carrier of the sickle cell trait at a young age, but he admitted to knowing little about how it could affect him until recent years. 

"All through college [at Auburn], you know how tough college workouts [are], I used to be dying in the workouts," Powers said. "I didn't know [the sickle cell trait] was part of the reason. So the whole time I used to just be like, 'I can't be this out of shape!' Or, 'I can't be breathing like this when the guy next to me, who I'm with everyday, he's fine!' 

"Things like that just made me wonder, made me want to go more in-depth [with] it. Once I found out the things the sickle cell trait can cause or do to your body, that's when I was like, 'Oh, this is why!' I never knew that this could play a part in my athletic ability, because growing up, nobody told me that it could. Everybody was like, 'It's normal; you're just a trait. If you have a baby by somebody else that has the trait, your baby is probably going to have the disease.' That's all I ever knew about it."
 
While it is rare for someone with just the sickle cell trait to experience symptoms of the sickle cell disease, the  Center for Disease Control says, in rare cases, people with the sickle cell trait can be harmed by increased atmosphere pressure, low oxygen levels, dehydration and high altitudes.

Before he fully understood the trait, Powers became fatigued when dealing with low oxygen levels or dehydration and did not understand what the issue really was. 

"You'll definitely be out there and just wondering, 'Why am I tired when everybody else doesn't seem so tired?'" Powers said. "Or, 'Why am I feeling so drowsy today?' You definitely feel it. But if you didn't know what the trait can cause or do, you can go your whole career, your whole life, just thinking, 'I'm just out of shape' or, 'I'm just tired,' when the trait could be the cause."

The Ravens' slot corner ended up educating himself much more about the trait because of his friendship with former NFL safety Ryan Clark, who didn't play in Denver himself because he has sickle cell disease. Like Coleman, Powers took great precaution when visiting the Mile High City.

"I played in Denver," Powers said. "It's tough. I took the precautionary steps that I needed to take as far as making sure that when I came off, I got the oxygen and everything I needed to survive out there."

In addition to knowledge, Powers said vitamins, iron and magnesium in particular, have helped him manage any issues he's dealt with related to the sickle cell trait. He also pays close attention to how he's feeling during particularly hot, humid practice sessions. 

"You might ask for a break here or there," Powers said. "It's one of those things. You know what level of fatigue it is, where you can kind of be like, 'I need to back up.' More times than not, you might just be tired just because of the day. But if it gets to a point where -- everybody knows their body -- you're like, 'Something's not right,' you know when to take yourself out." 

Reiterating his appreciation for Coleman speaking up about the sickle cell trait, Powers encouraged other football players to educate themselves, considering, statistically, many of them may be affected.

"It's more of an African-American thing," Powers said. (He's right. According to the  National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, one of every 13 African-American babies are born with the trait, one of every 365 with the disease.) 

"So it's probably more so that a lot of guys probably have it and don't even know it."