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 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. ed Bailey

    A good team, a caring management,a good call!

    January 4, 2012 at 8:52 am | Report abuse |
    • Maggie

      I am from Baltimore and love the Ravens. Having said that I must also say that I have a tremendous amount of respect for Mike Tomlin and his decision. This has nothing to do with the teams but the health and safety of a human being. We should all wish we had a boss like that to work for...... Good for Mike Tomlin and the Steelers organization.

      January 4, 2012 at 10:21 am | Report abuse |
  2. Bobby

    What a wimp! This is football. He should be willing to give his life for the game.

    January 4, 2012 at 8:56 am | Report abuse |
    • Joel

      You're an idiot. Even if this is a sarcastic comment, it's still stupid because of how many people actually believe this.

      January 4, 2012 at 8:57 am | Report abuse |
    • John B

      Nice try Bobby. I assume we can deduce from your comment that US Army soldiers are also wimps, because the US Army also has policies regarding recruits and enlisted men who carry the sickle cell trait. Way to go Bobby. Trash the US Army and you are trashing America.

      January 4, 2012 at 9:11 am | Report abuse |
    • Alpine8

      Bobby – Go find something else to do... It's obvious you can't properly interact with society.

      January 4, 2012 at 9:17 am | Report abuse |
    • Bozobub

      Considering it wasn't the player, but team management that made the call, you fail utterly, Bobby. It makes both compassionate and monetary sense; or would YOU like to pay their insurance costs..?

      January 4, 2012 at 9:23 am | Report abuse |
    • Steelers Fan

      Some players do give their lives.... but not on purpose. Bobby, you are an idiot.

      January 4, 2012 at 9:33 am | Report abuse |
    • Professor Trollworth

      Agreed. What a big baby. I don't see why they ever remove any of their players from the field under any conditions. The only acceptable reasons for keeping an NFL player from playing football are:
      -They have become quadriplegic (paraplegic is no excuse)
      -They are unable to reach the field due to forced confinement (jail, kidnapped)
      -They are dead

      January 4, 2012 at 9:39 am | Report abuse |
  3. Joel

    Totally floored by this. What an awesome move on behalf of Tomlin and the entire management team. I can't help but respect this, though I couldn't imagine the repercussions if he were to have a stroke while on the field, or anything else, etc. Still, I like Tomlin's comment, "it's an important game, but it is just a game." Sometimes we forget this to be the case.

    January 4, 2012 at 8:56 am | Report abuse |
    • JJ

      Agreed 100%. A very honorable decision. Your reply is a refreshing break from much ignorance and even some racisim in these comments. I hope the mods get to work cleaning this place up.

      January 5, 2012 at 9:56 am | Report abuse |
  4. Ava

    Ryan is awesome and the team will definitely miss him but they'll come out on top...GO STEELERS!!!!

    January 4, 2012 at 9:07 am | Report abuse |
    • Steelers Fan

      You are correct, The rest of the defense will step up. Go Steelers!

      January 4, 2012 at 9:31 am | Report abuse |
  5. TriXen

    Well, as a Patriots fan, I'm pulling for the Broncos in this game.

    January 4, 2012 at 9:10 am | Report abuse |
  6. Scott

    TriXen, Pulling for the Broncos? You sound a little leary of possibly playing the Steelers again. I sense a little fear in your post. LOL

    January 4, 2012 at 9:15 am | Report abuse |
  7. Mordrud

    Wow. Tomlin just went up a few notches in my book. I'd love to play for a guy like that. And I love him on House.

    January 4, 2012 at 9:18 am | Report abuse |
    • polamalufan

      LMAO! I thought I was the only one that thought he could be a dead ringer for Foreman. But on a serious note, how can you not respect a coach that would do that and a player that would put himself out there like that. My Gosh, the consequences from the last time he played in Denver, and he'd still play. Amazing dedication!

      January 4, 2012 at 9:37 am | Report abuse |
  8. CincyFan

    Another classy move by one of the classiest sports franchises there is. Just another reason why i hate them. If this was the Bengals, he would be fined if he didn't play.

    January 4, 2012 at 9:20 am | Report abuse |
    • Steelers Fan

      Good luck in the playoffs. AFC North is the strongest in the league!

      January 4, 2012 at 9:27 am | Report abuse |
    • Stanford

      Classy? The Steels have a quarterback who has a history of getting young girls drunk and raping them in the bathroom while his entourage stands guard at the door. With Rossen bugger, Vick and the murderer Ray Lewis still in the game, the NFL is now the National Felons League.

      January 4, 2012 at 9:50 am | Report abuse |
  9. american citizen

    A good man passed away, but this does not surprise me. This seems to be an act of ethnic cleansing. American government is releasing deadly strains of this "Sickle Cell disease", I suspect it may be AIDS. Watch out African Americans, defend your rights.

    January 4, 2012 at 9:24 am | Report abuse |
    • Bozobub

      Sickle-cell anemia is an inherited, non-infectious trait. Bogeyman fail. Try harder.

      January 4, 2012 at 9:30 am | Report abuse |
    • DanoRoo

      Apparently these "deadly strains" aren't deadly enough. Have you seen the demographic shift in the US over the past 50 years?

      January 4, 2012 at 9:36 am | Report abuse |
    • White girl

      I happen to be a blond hair, blue-eyed freckeled faced Irish girl and I have sickle cell trait. Is the government out to get us too?

      January 4, 2012 at 10:24 am | Report abuse |
    • Christine

      Sickle Cell trait is inherited and was selected for in humans because it offers some protection from serious bouts of malaria. With this trait people have a better chance of surviving infection and sickle anemia genes are fairly common in areas plagued by malaria. Grow up dude.

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

      What the heck are you talking about? Did you read the article? OMGoodness....

      January 4, 2012 at 11:49 am | Report abuse |
    • Carolina

      Go back to reading your Bobsey Twins book and leave the really intelligent decisions to those who have intelligence.

      January 4, 2012 at 12:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • JJ

      I got an actual LOL out of this post. Boy does the internet extend down into the depths of ignorance. How did you even work a computer to post this?

      January 5, 2012 at 10:01 am | Report abuse |
  10. Bozobub

    They're not mutually exclusive.

    January 4, 2012 at 9:27 am | Report abuse |
  11. Big Paulie

    They should use this in those cold medicine ads that have NFL players and coaches. "In the NFL there aren't sick days......unless you have sickle cell anemia."

    January 4, 2012 at 9:35 am | Report abuse |
    • american citizen

      You fool. This "Sickle Cell" disease is all but made up, no scientific proof has been found. The media is lying to you. It is an infectious form of HIV that spreads around the black community, a form of ethnic cleansing. The white man does not want to step down from his seat of power. Get your facts right, and do some research. The real genocide is before you.

      January 4, 2012 at 9:42 am | Report abuse |
    • letsgomets2012

      Really, American Citizen?

      What about the thallasemias, aka Cooley's Anemia - usually effects those of Italian and Greek origin?

      I suppose that's made up, too, like sickle cell anemia???

      January 4, 2012 at 9:55 am | Report abuse |
    • RealAthlete

      @ "American citizen": Good try. I have sickle cell disease, and I'm white. This disease isn't fun. Despite being in amazing shape, it sucks having to back off due to being out of breath suddenly.

      January 4, 2012 at 9:56 am | Report abuse |
  12. Barbara

    Kudos to Coach Tomlin!

    January 4, 2012 at 9:50 am | Report abuse |
  13. Brian

    No safeties are required to defend against Tebow anyways.

    January 4, 2012 at 9:50 am | Report abuse |
  14. Debbie

    I don't know if "American Citizen" truly is one. However, there is no doubt that he/she is a complete idiot.

    January 4, 2012 at 9:52 am | Report abuse |
  15. Frank

    Guess he doesn't care about winning a ring....

    January 4, 2012 at 9:54 am | Report abuse |
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