Sickle cell trait keeps Steelers' safety out of playoff game
Pittsburgh Steelers safety Ryan Clark led the team in tackles this season.
January 4th, 2012
06:18 AM ET

Sickle cell trait keeps Steelers' safety out of playoff game

Pittsburgh Steelers safety Ryan Clark, one of the team's leading defenders, won't play in Sunday's NFL playoff game in Denver because physical exertion in the city's mile-high altitude may aggravate Clark's sickle cell trait.

"Looking at data and all the variables he is at more risk, so we're not going to play him. It's just that simple," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said Tuesday, according to CNN affiliate WPXI-TV.

"If he is in any more danger than any of the other 21 men on the field, then we err on the side of caution," Tomlin said at a news conference.

"It is a big game for us, but it is a game," he said.

After a 2007 game in Denver, Clark had his spleen and gall bladder removed and lost 30 pounds from sickle cell complications.

But Clark told ESPN he thought he could play in Denver this weekend despite the risks.

"I talked to my doctors and we actually had a plan in place for me to play. All things pointed to me going until (Tomlin) told me I can't. He said he wouldn't have let his son play and so I'm not playing either," Clark told ESPN.

After hearing that, Clark said he couldn't argue with Tomlin's decision.

"I appreciate coach caring about me more than this football game," he said in the ESPN interview.

The sickle cell trait is an inherited condition that occurs when one parent passes to a sickle cell gene to a child, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Those with the trait do not usually exhibit symptoms of sickle cell disease, which occurs when the child inherits the sickle cell gene from both parents.

Sickle cell disease is a blood disorder in which normally round red blood cells, which carry oxygen throughout the body, become crescent- or sickle-shaped. They also become hard and sticky and tend to die early, according to the CDC. And because of their shape, they can become stuck in blood vessels leading to problems including infection and stroke.

But the CDC cautions that those with sickle cell trait can experience complications during both athletic activity and when at high altitudes. Denver, known as the Mile-High City, is 5,280 feet above sea level. Pittsburgh is about 770 feet above sea level.

Clark has been the Steelers' busiest defender this season, according to ESPN.com. He has been on the field for 1,009 snaps this season, or 98.7% of the team's defensive plays. He led the team with 100 tackles.

Clark will be replaced by Ryan Mundy in the starting lineup.

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soundoff (165 Responses)
  1. Joe

    "Steelers coach Ray Tomlin said Tuesday"

    Mike Tomlin.

    January 4, 2012 at 6:36 am | Report abuse |
    • You can call me ray

      What can one get if he drinks too many Blk Russians? Hammer and Sickle cell anemia!

      January 4, 2012 at 7:46 am | Report abuse |
    • Richard

      What rubbish. They risk injury all the time in games, linesmen end up crippled for life by the time their career is over, how is this any different? Why play at all then?

      January 4, 2012 at 8:25 am | Report abuse |
    • kerndog

      I thought the coach was Lilly Tomlin??

      January 4, 2012 at 8:55 am | Report abuse |
    • Bozobub

      Richard, you apparently missed how he had to have 2 organs removed and lost 30 lbs. the last timne he played in Denver. Don't be a tool.

      January 4, 2012 at 9:25 am | Report abuse |
    • james

      dont be an idiot RAY

      January 4, 2012 at 11:38 am | Report abuse |
  2. Sean

    The Steelers Coach is Mike Tomlin, not Ray!

    January 4, 2012 at 6:39 am | Report abuse |
  3. Booo

    Ditto what the first two comments say! Get it together. Ever heard of fact checking?

    January 4, 2012 at 6:42 am | Report abuse |
    • rmsbl4

      NO. This is CNN remember.

      January 4, 2012 at 7:21 am | Report abuse |
  4. Scott

    "Mike" Tomlin is a class act in every aspect. His statement, "It is a big game for us, but it is a game," shows the utmost in class and character. He said "he wouldn't have let his son play and so Ryan is not playing either," That's what Pittsburgh and the Steelers are all about, a family!!!!! Way to go Mike and Steeler Nation Rules!!!!

    January 4, 2012 at 6:49 am | Report abuse |
    • John B

      The Steelers are a class act and I'm a Broncos fan. I'll be at the game Sunday. The Steelers are so darn good the "next man up" will be more than the Broncos can handle. I was at the 2005/06 AFC championship game when the Steelers crushed the Broncos. There were a lot of Steelers fans in the seats. Polite. Respectful. It truly is one of the great NFL teams.

      January 4, 2012 at 8:13 am | Report abuse |
  5. J R Brown

    Our soldiers get paid a pittance compared to an NFL player to do their jobs...suck it up and go play football.

    January 4, 2012 at 7:11 am | Report abuse |
    • rmsbl4

      What do you not comprehend? The COACH benched him. Ryan Clark did not make the decision. You need to have your MOMMY read the story and your comment before posting

      January 4, 2012 at 7:26 am | Report abuse |
    • M.Douglass

      Our soldiers depend on their leadership and our political leaders (I know that's a stretch) to keep them out of unnecessary harm the same way any football player (high school to pro) should have a support structure that keeps them from placing themselves in more harm than normal.
      I'm a Ravens fan but I do have a bit more respect for Tomlin after reading this article.

      January 4, 2012 at 7:28 am | Report abuse |
    • Chuck in Jasper, Ga.

      Football players make more money than almost any profession except possibly a CEO for a drug company. Your posting has no point does it?

      January 4, 2012 at 7:30 am | Report abuse |
    • IceMan

      J R and Matt: How do you acquire these points of view? Post traumatic stress?

      January 4, 2012 at 7:54 am | Report abuse |
    • John B

      J R Brown is not the sharpest pencil in the box. For your information, the US Army has special protocols in place for recruits and active duty personnel who carry sickle cell trait...and of course, those with sickle cell disease cannot enlist. This isn't about "sucking it up." My guess is, if you had sickle cell trait and had a "sickle crisis" you'd be crying like a baby.

      January 4, 2012 at 8:22 am | Report abuse |
    • JR Brown is a Troll

      Folks. You need to do a better job recognizing a troll. JRBrown is a troll. He needs to get reactions from people to justify his existence. JRBrown does not have a good life, his life is pathetic full of misery. To feel impowered, trolls such as JRBRown go on these sites and writes something stupid to get a reaction. By getting responses, he feels empowered. Although this empowerment is tiny and pathetic to the average person, to him its a big deal.

      January 4, 2012 at 1:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • LivinginVA

      Soldiers who have medical issues that are likely to kill them are given discharges, not put in battle.

      January 5, 2012 at 5:44 am | Report abuse |
  6. sayzwhat

    Coach MIKE is a class act.

    January 4, 2012 at 7:21 am | Report abuse |
  7. dl

    @Zoe- you are absolutly correct.

    January 4, 2012 at 7:55 am | Report abuse |
  8. alf

    One short sentence, one grammatical error and one spelling error. Who's ignorant?

    January 4, 2012 at 7:58 am | Report abuse |
  9. WHATTT!!!

    good job! let all get mad and yell at Matt, lets let him be ignorant and show how much more ignorant YOU! are. Just keep your mouth shut and ignore stupid comment like that and dont give them credence. Geezz and Zoe, please tell me how CNN will get in trouble, please tell me?

    January 4, 2012 at 8:01 am | Report abuse |
  10. 3fingers

    Athletes work hard to get to be a professional and only the best of the best get to make it to the majors and earn the big money. Soldiers enlist willingly knowing what they will make when they sign up.

    Not saying the pay scales are correct, just saying comparing the two is irrelevant.

    January 4, 2012 at 8:17 am | Report abuse |
  11. Sean

    I think Coach Tomlin made the right decision. Ryan Clark will be missed dearly

    January 4, 2012 at 8:20 am | Report abuse |
  12. Ellie

    It's wonderful that the coach has put this players safety above the game. It really sounds like the Steelers are an organization that cares about its players. I have sickle-cell trait myself I was never really aware it could cause all the problems this player experienced in the past. In fact I don't really notice any impact of it at all. Maybe there are more severe forms? Either way yay Steelers!

    January 4, 2012 at 8:27 am | Report abuse |
  13. Claude

    Stupid racists like gene have no place in this world! Coach Tomlin is a world class human; he places value on his players above a game.

    January 4, 2012 at 8:39 am | Report abuse |
    • Ali

      How were his comments racist? I think you are confused about who said what. I wouldn't consider calling someone and idiot a racist comment. Particularly when considering the comment being responded to.

      January 4, 2012 at 8:46 am | Report abuse |
  14. Ali

    Good point Zoe. I was very surprised that comment made it thru the moderators. Oh and WHATTT!!!! maybe you should keep your opinion to yourself if you feel it is inappropriate to comment on things you deem as inappropriate. They probably won't get into "trouble", however, the comment is still inappropriate.

    January 4, 2012 at 8:43 am | Report abuse |
  15. Steelers Fan

    Mike Tomlin is one of the most humble and caring coaches there is. I got nothing but a huge respect for him and he made the right decision. Ryan Clark, you will be missed! Go Black and Gold!! – a 3rd generation Steelers fan

    January 4, 2012 at 8:48 am | Report abuse |
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