Pittsburgh Steelers safety Ryan Clark, one of the team’s leading defenders, will not play in Sunday’s AFC wild card playoff game against the Denver Broncos because of health risks to him in the high altitude, low-oxygen conditions of Denver’s Mile High Stadium, the team said on Tuesday.
“It was an easy decision for us,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin told reporters. “When looking at all of our data, we came to the determination [Ryan] is at more risk so we are not going to play him. It’s just that simple.”
Clark, who suffers from sickle cell trait, a blood disorder in which the body produces an abnormal type of the oxygen-carrying substance hemoglobin in the red blood cells, became violently ill after a previous matchup in Denver during the 2007 season, eventually losing his spleen and gall bladder due to a deprivation of oxygen.
Despite the 2007 incident and the fact that Clark has sit out both of the other two games in Denver since, the 32-year-old told ESPN he thought he would be “a go” for the playoff game this Sunday.
“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.”
After hearing that, Clark said he couldn’t argue with his coach’s decision to bench him.
“I appreciate coach caring about me more than this football game,” he said in the ESPN interview.
In Ryan’s place, coach Tomlin said Ryan Mundy, a sixth round selection for the Steelers in the 2008 NFL Draft, would start.
Over the course of the 2011-2012 season Ryan Clark has been the Steelers’ busiest defender. In addition to leading the team with 100 tackles, he has been on the field for 1,009 snaps, or 98.7% of the team’s defensive plays.
Hear Ryan Clark talk about Tomlin’s decision to bench him for the Denver game in the video clip below: