Steelers Won't Play Clark in Denver Due to Sickle Cell Concerns

Steelers Won’t Play Clark in Denver Due to Health Concerns
Safety Ryan Clark of the Pittsburgh Steelers looks on during the game against the San Francisco 49ers in San Francisco, on Dec. 19, 2011. Photographer: Karl Walter/Getty Images

Pittsburgh Steelers safety Ryan Clark will sit out this weekend’s playoff game in Denver because the city’s high altitude can complicate his sickle cell trait and deprive major organs of oxygen.

Clark, 32, was found to have the condition after playing in Denver in 2007, when he became ill and had to have his spleen and gall bladder removed. He was kept out of a regular-season game in Denver in 2009 and a preseason road game against the Broncos last season.

“If he is in any more increased danger than any of the other 21 men on the field during the course of a football game, we were going to err on the side of caution,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said yesterday at a news conference. “We came to the determination he is at more risk, so we’re not going to play him. It’s just that simple.”

Sickle cell trait occurs when a person inherits a sickle cell gene from one parent, according to WebMD. The person rarely has symptoms, though there can be serious health complications under extreme conditions or at high altitude. Sickle cell trait isn’t the same as sickle cell disease, which turns round red blood cells into abnormally curved shapes.

Clark said he wasn’t surprised about Tomlin’s decision, though he thought it might be different circumstances this time because it’s a playoff game. Clark will travel to Denver, which is known as the “Mile High City” because it sits about one mile (1.6 kilometers) above sea level, and join his teammates on the sidelines.

“Everybody knows I want to play and I would have played,” Clark told ESPN yesterday. “I talked to my doctors and we actually had a plan in place for me to play. All things pointed to me going until he told me I can’t. He said he wouldn’t have let his son play and so I’m not playing either.”

Tomlin said he told Clark he will start Ryan Mundy in his place after talking to team doctors. Clark leads the Steelers with 100 tackles this season.

“It’s a big game for us, but it is a game,” Tomlin said. “We will keep it in that perspective. We have some quality, capable men that can play the safety position for us and have done it in the past.”

The Steelers yesterday also placed running back Rashard Mendenhall, their leading rusher, on injured reserve with a torn ligament in his right knee. Mendenhall was hurt in the team’s regular-season finale and will miss the postseason.

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