All Georgia HBCUs will screen student-athletes for heart complications

Players warm up before an NCAA Celebration Bowl football game between Howard and Florida A&M, Saturday, Dec. 16, 2023, at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. (Mike Stewart/AP Photo)

Over 40,000 people packed into Mercedes-Benz Stadium this year to watch the Celebration Bowl – the national football championship for historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs). 

Florida A&M defensive back Kendall Bohler (3) intercepts a ball against Howard during the second half of an NCAA Celebration Bowl football game, Saturday, Dec. 16, 2023, in Atlanta. (Mike Stewart/AP Photo)

As the Howard University Bison and the Florida Agricultural & Mechanical University Rattlers broke for halftime, representatives from two national healthcare nonprofits took the field to make an announcement. 

CareSource was donating $20,000 to offer free heart screenings to Georgia’s HBCU student-athletes. The money will go to Who We Play For, a partner organization providing the staff and equipment to implement the screenings. 

According to CareSource program director Sheryl-Anne Murray, sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) is the leading cause of death for student-athletes across the nation, and these screenings are especially important at HBCUs because Black athletes are disproportionately at risk.

A 2023 study from the American Heart Association found that even as the total number of SCA incidents for college athletes declined over the last 20 years, the rates of sudden cardiac death remained highest among male athletes, Black athletes and basketball players.

Murray also said this kind of testing is important at HBCUs because many Black colleges lack the resources to conduct mass screenings on their own. 

“Due to them being under-resourced, this is not a top priority initiative for the universities as it is for the other NCAA programs,” she said. 

The Georgia screenings follow Who We Play For’s successful campaign in Florida, where the organization tested hundreds of athletes across the state’s four HBCUs. About a dozen students were made aware of heart conditions that were previously unknown. 

In Georgia, the game plan is the same: to screen every student-athlete who competes for one of the state’s 10 HBCUs. 

Those 10 HBCUs include:

  • Albany State University
  • Clark Atlanta University
  • Fort Valley State University
  • Interdenominational Theological Center
  • Morehouse College
  • Morehouse School of Medicine
  • Paine College
  • Savannah State University
  • Spelman College
  • Morris Brown College

Murray said it means a lot to have this kind of impact, especially as an HBCU alumni herself.

Though Murray is a proud graduate of Howard University in Washington, DC, she said it nonetheless fills her cup to serve the community of Black colleges here in Georgia by promoting health equity.