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The Steelers head into their first NFL Playoff game of the season without the aid of one of their fiercest defenders – Ryan Clark. Clark, who leads the defense with 100 tackles this season, may not be able to tackle the health effects of sickle-cell trait when it comes to facing the Denver Broncos.
A person inherits sickle cell trait when they receive just one copy of the sickle cell gene from one parent. The more serious and symptomatic sickle cell disease occurs when a person receives a copy of the sickle cell gene from each parent – resulting in anemic crises and debilitating pain when low oxygen levels change the shape and reduce the oxygen-carrying capacity of red blood cells.
Sickle cell trait is typically asymptomatic. However, the trait may be exacerbated by physical strain, like the workout regiment demanded by professional sports.  The trait can also be stoked by exertion at high altitudes where oxygen levels are notoriously low. Ryan Clark's job as starting free safety for the number one defense in the league playing in an arena called Mile High Stadium fits this definition. In fact, Clark had serious complications during a 2007 game – resulting in complications and surgery that left him without a spleen or gallbladder. Two years later, faced with the same potential health issue, Coach Mike Tomlin benched Clark during a regular season game with the Broncos.
But the playoffs are another story. When the goal is to get to the "Big Show" for a chance to win it all – players have been known to risk their body and career a la the Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling's bloody sock in the 2004 American League Championship Series. On Monday it was reported that Tomlin was going to leave it to Clark to decide after consulting with doctors. But today CNN reports that although Clark was ready and willing to hit the turf, Coach Tomlin had a change of heart and decided to prioritize the safety of his starting safety and bench Clark.
Although surely disappointed, Clark was touched by the sentiment expressed by his coach. In an interview with ESPN Clark said, "All things pointed to me going until (Coach Tomlin) told me I can't. He said he wouldn't have let his son play and so I'm not playing either."
Tomlin said "It is a big game for us, but it is a game."
Regardless of how the Steelers fare during the game, Tomlin is the real winner for maintaining perspective.

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