Pittsburgh Steelers safety Ryan Clark has the sickle-cell trait, and the last time he played at the altitude of Denver, it almost cost him his life. Clark got so sick that he lost 30 pounds, had to have his spleen and gall bladder removed, and couldn’t play for the rest of the season.
Now the Steelers are preparing to play at Denver again, and Steelers receiver Hines Ward has a simple message for Clark: Don’t play.
“I know he wants to be out there but life is way more precious than football,” Ward said, per Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “When football ends, you can still go on and have a productive life. What Ryan went through the last time he was there, to see him lose his spleen and to come to find out it was because of the Denver trip … if it were me, I wouldn’t play. It’s not even a question. But I can’t speak for somebody else. I don’t know how he and his family feel about the situation.”
That’s a sensible attitude, and it means a lot coming from Ward, one of the league’s toughest players. But will Clark heed the warning and skip the game at Denver?
Clark declined to say on Monday whether he’ll play against the Broncos, and Steelers coach Mike Tomlin would say only that he and Clark would make the decision together. It’s possible that Clark has already decided whether he’ll play, and, as J.J. Cooper of FanHouse noted, the delay in announcing whether Clark will play could simply be a matter of the Steelers not wanting to tip their hands to the Broncos.
But whatever ends up happening with Clark in Denver, the mere fact that he would consider returning to the field where he suffered such severe health problems is a stark reminder of the way professional football players routinely put their bodies on the line.