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. freepalmtree

    Solution: Move the playoffs to Pittsburgh...

    January 4, 2012 at 11:01 am | Report abuse |
  2. VCD

    'American citizen' you are a racist fool. Sickle Cell trait/disease has nothing to do with HIV. Your children can only get it from you, it isn't transfered like HIV at all, and it is a REAL disorder with scientific proof.

    January 4, 2012 at 11:03 am | Report abuse |
    • Joe G

      This just shows what a top notch coach and person Mike Tomlin is. Ryan Clark is a great safety, but as the coach put it, it is a game. No game is worth risking your life for. I wish the Rooney's owned Philly. We need a coach like Tomlin.

      January 4, 2012 at 12:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rob F

      Black people get more sickle cell and white people get more melanoma. Everyone stop being racist and support this guy. He's a great footballer.

      January 4, 2012 at 1:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • Frank

      FYI, white people *CAN* get sickle cell. It's called sickle cell thalassemia.

      January 4, 2012 at 1:58 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Me

    What a baby. He should play.

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

      you fool, he could die..

      January 4, 2012 at 11:19 am | Report abuse |
    • Joe

      So, when was the last time you stepped on an NFL playing field and took a few hits? Ryan Clark is no "baby".

      January 4, 2012 at 11:24 am | Report abuse |
    • james

      He is no baby, you go take a hit from him and we will see who the baby is. I had no ideal what this disease did to a person and after reading about it I just wish there was a cure for it. I bleed from an aortic anyerusm repaired with st. jude mechanical valve and dactron 5cm tube for my aorta, all of it is recalled and leaking I wish him the best, I have learned about his story and pray for him and his family.

      January 4, 2012 at 11:32 am | Report abuse |
    • oldbear60

      So says a person with no knowledge, probably no ability and who probably isn't worth the waste of spit. This is a heriteary disease and I applaud the coach for caring more for his players than the game.

      January 4, 2012 at 11:40 am | Report abuse |
    • Julie

      Did you even read the article?? It says he wanted to play, but the coach won't let him. How does that make him a baby?

      January 4, 2012 at 11:45 am | Report abuse |
    • Carolina

      No, he should not play you idiot. His life comes first. I

      January 4, 2012 at 12:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • allen

      How is he a baby when it was a coaching decision?

      January 4, 2012 at 12:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • runmom

      I applaud Coach Tomlin for his actions. The life of a player is worth far more than a single game. Even if the Steelers lose in Denver, Clark will be able to play again next season, hopefully taking his team to the playoffs again, even to the Big Dance. Kudos to the Steelers and good luck!

      January 4, 2012 at 1:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • wootdude

      Come on folks, the guy makes stupid comments just to get people riled up and you fall for it. Don't give him the pleasure. Ignore the comments and he goes away.

      January 4, 2012 at 8:44 pm | Report abuse |
  4. George

    What a good call by the coach. When it is all said and done, it really is just a game. A persons health is more important. Congrats to the coach and the team for making the right call and good luck in the game!

    January 4, 2012 at 11:16 am | Report abuse |
    • MidWestKev

      I have always liked Tomlin, now I respect him even more for a great decision on his part to make his player's safety a priority.

      January 4, 2012 at 1:29 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Frank

    I iz a freak and I iz a fairy! I luv dem gayboyz and I be all hairy! Let's ram each other silly in da poop chute. I just wanna schlob your knob.

    January 4, 2012 at 11:18 am | Report abuse |
    • westmetals

      Um... sickle cell is an inherited (genetic) disease and has nothing to do with HIV.

      January 4, 2012 at 11:41 am | Report abuse |
    • Kay

      Learn some science, fool. Sickle cell is an adaption many Africans and their descendants have–it evolved as a resistance to malaria.

      January 4, 2012 at 12:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ufreak

      you freak!!

      January 4, 2012 at 12:23 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Cttnmth420

    Happened with him last year too. Will it be another headline next year?

    January 4, 2012 at 11:18 am | Report abuse |
    • SCOTT

      stupid coment

      January 4, 2012 at 1:21 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Joe

    As long as Mr. Clark is fully aware of the risks involved, it should be his decision whether he plays or not.

    January 4, 2012 at 11:22 am | Report abuse |
    • Jamie

      The coach decides who plays.

      January 4, 2012 at 11:42 am | Report abuse |
    • allen

      They already tried that route. He lost two organs and 30 pounds because of it.

      January 4, 2012 at 12:57 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Upton

    "The sickle cell trait is an inherited condition that occurs when one parent passes to a sickle cell gene to a child"

    Please, CNN. I know the website is free, but do some editing. If it takes me thirty seconds to scan the article and catch that error, surely you can find a cost-effective way of doing it. Lord knows there are enough unemployed Journalism majors to throw someone a bone.

    January 4, 2012 at 11:31 am | Report abuse |
  9. lynny

    Good call coach. The NCAA also screens its athletes for this trait. Always better safe than sorry.

    January 4, 2012 at 12:14 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Joe

    The Steelers will not need him anyway. They can use the practice squad to beat Denver! How Denver ever got into the playoffs is a riddle for the ages!

    January 4, 2012 at 12:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • Best of the AFC West

      Not a surprise at all. Chiefs lost their QB, Chargers did their token too little too late, and the Raiders who were arguably the best team choked. Denver sucked slightly less than the others. They definitely should change the seeding though. It's ridiculous that an 8-8 team gets to host a playoff game.

      January 4, 2012 at 1:10 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Shane

    I just gained more respect for the management of the Steelers. When you have a year where teams have put players back in after being knocked out (should never happen) and other things, its nice to see a team remembering that this is a game and a person's health is worth more than that.

    January 4, 2012 at 12:38 pm | Report abuse |
  12. dl

    OMG!!! I cannot believe most of these STUPID and inconsiderate posts are talking about letting Ryan Clark play. WOW!!! You talking about a life or maybe death compared to playing a freaking game??? Why don't you all DUMB %%%'s shut up becasue the more you open your mouths the more of a MORON you sound. I too have the Sickle Cell Trait and God forbid would I risk my life or my kids life for nothing in the world. KUDOS to Mike Tomlin for an awesome decision and KUDOS to Ryan Clark for being such an amazing team player. And the HELL to all the IDIOTS withthe NEGATIVE posts.

    January 4, 2012 at 12:45 pm | Report abuse |
  13. dl

    OMG!!! I cannot believe most of these STUPID and inconsiderate posts – talking about letting Ryan Clark play. WOW!!! You talking about a life or maybe death compared to playing a freaking game??? Why don't you all DUMB %%%'s shut up becaause the more you open your mouths the more of a MORON you sound. I too have the Sickle Cell Trait and God forbid would I risk my life or anybody else for a game. KUDOS to Mike Tomlin for an awesome decision and KUDOS to Ryan Clark for being such an amazing team player. And the HELL to all the IDIOTS with the NEGATIVE posts.

    January 4, 2012 at 12:49 pm | Report abuse |
  14. dl

    CORRECTION to – because

    January 4, 2012 at 12:50 pm | Report abuse |
  15. SteelerScott

    Jeez....what a bunch of retards commenting on this article. The wonder why our country is failing behind. Learn to read dumba$$es. He could die is he plays. It's not like we don't have extremely capable backups who know how to play Steeler football!

    January 4, 2012 at 1:03 pm | Report abuse |
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