Teammates urging Clark to skip game

Updated: November 6, 2009, 12:08 PM ET
Associated Press

PITTSBURGH -- Ryan Clark may be saying everything he needs to say with his growing silence.

The Pittsburgh Steelers safety is usually one of the team's most talkative players. But he is talking little as it becomes increasingly likely he won't play Monday in Denver due to a rare blood condition that nearly caused him to die after playing there two years ago.

Nearly all of Clark's teammates are urging him to skip the game. The other Steelers safeties are being readied to play, and Clark does not appear as upbeat or as excited as he normally does before a game.

During a time he often chats with reporters, Clark sat alone in front of his locker, scanning messages on his cell phone before practice on Thursday.

Even if Clark pleaded with them to play, the Steelers appear reluctant to take a chance considering how seriously ill he became after that 2007 game, which Denver won 31-28.

Clark was hospitalized in Denver when complications from sickle-cell trait prevented oxygen from flowing into his spleen. He later needed operations to remove his spleen and gall bladder, and the 205-pound Clark lost more than 30 pounds before he finally began feeling better more than two months later.

He missed the second half of that season, but recovered and resumed his career last season, when the Steelers won the Super Bowl.

While other players with sickle-cell trait can play in Denver without problems, Clark's condition was worsened because he is among the estimated 1 percent of those affected by the condition who react poorly to exerting themselves in high altitude.

[+] EnlargeRyan Clark
AP Photo/Don Wright After a 2007 game, Ryan Clark was hospitalized in Denver when complications from sickle-cell trait prevented oxygen from flowing into his spleen.

Because of that, the Steelers -- as would any NFL team -- must weigh the potential legal matters that might arise should a player become seriously ill after being permitted to play under such risky circumstances. And no team wants to send a message to its players that winning a game is so important that a player's long-term health issues become secondary.

"Coach [Mike] Tomlin could say, 'You know what, it's not worth it," Clark said on Wednesday. "If he's not comfortable with it, he has the right to tell me I can't play."

It seems likely the Steelers will do exactly that, if only because they can't know for certain what might happen if Clark plays again in Denver's thin air.

Clark has flown through Denver since that 2007 game, and he plans to accompany the Steelers to the game, but it is playing in the thin air that is the problem.

"It's a tough decision," Clark said. "Tough to go home and tell your wife that's been worried about you that you're going, and it's tough for me to tell the guys that I don't want to play even though I've been cleared."

While doctors told him last week he could play, Clark said no one could tell him there is no risk in playing.

"Obviously nobody's been able to say, 'If you go, you won't get sick at all. We promise you.' That would make it really easy," Clark said. "And none of them have said, 'If you go, you're going to die,' either. With all those opinions, I spent a month [in 2007] where they couldn't figure out what was wrong with me the last time, too."

The Steelers (5-2) haven't made any announcement about Clark's status, and they may be waiting so the Broncos (6-1) go through their practice week preparing as if Clark will play.


Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press