Heart Of The Matter For Athletes For Everyone

Updated: June 4, 2008


What does it mean or

does it mean anything

a new study shows

statistical differences

in the Hearts of

Black & White


The recent study presented in the June 10 issue of the American College of Cardiology specifically examined the hearts of 2000 NFL football players but there is no reason to believe the study applies specifically or only to football players.

The findings are twofold: that African American athletes have a higher percentage of so called abnormal ECG patterns that is electrical cardiograms and further a separate study this of European athletes found that Black athletes had thicker heart walls.

The good news is that neither finding is an indication that Black athletes are unhealthy. In fact the research doctors conducting the studies specifically the ECG study noted that contrary to conventional wisdom that young athletes in particular Black athletes should not be screened for abnormal ECG patterns because that could lead to a new form of “discrimination” rejecting either in the pros or in college athletes who have unusual ECGs when there is no significant correlation between this condition and heart disease.

Here is how Dr. Barry Maron one of the study leaders put it

” Maron said he regarded the study results as an argument against routine cardiac screening of young athletes. “These data would suggest that that would be confusing if not chaotic,” he said. “If you use the ECG as a screening tool, the ECG in blacks are more likely to be abnormal. That would raise the possibility of heart disease more frequently — an unbalanced situation. Black athletes are more likely to be judged incorrectly to have heart disease.”

Here is how another physician

Dr. Abraham Friedman put it

” that unusual pattern of the ECG, which records the electrical waves that cause the heart muscle to pump, need not be a barrier to a long sports career, said Dr. Abraham Friedman, a clinical associate professor of medicine at the University of Pittsburgh, who has served as a cardiology advisor at marathon races and other events. Friedman noted that Wilt Chamberlain, the all-time National Basketball Association star, has such a pattern.”

The conclusions are the same for a very different issue studied by physicians in England heart wall thickness. Again no correlation between wall thickness and disease. The real point of both studies going forward is to prove you cannot determine risk factors for athletes or anyone else for that matter based on quickie tests. Rather that complete physical exams will provide multiple reasons for concern if in fact disease or potential disease conditions exist. And the corollary fact that isolated traits in individuals that differ from the norm often simply prove that each human has distinct characteristics that include our organs.

These studies are one aspect of a larger concern that effects everyone of course most of all the poor and disadvantaged that employers, medical insurance providers, government and others are prone to use “simple” tests now even genetic markers to make instant decisions about who to hire or who to cover and often without the person impacted ever being told what has just happened to them and with no means to appeal.

So take medal tests seriously

as professional athletes should

but always be on guard

against inadequate

evaluations and

misused data