Steelers OG Simmons inspires TV show

<b>PITTSBURGH - </b>Sometimes art really does mirror reality. In Tuesday night's season finale of the ESPN drama &quot;Playmakers&quot; - a series about a fictional professional football team - offensive tackle Kelvin &quot;Buffalo&quot; James was diagnosed with diabetes.

A story line should be familiar for Steelers fans. Steelers starting right guard Kendall Simmons was diagnosed with diabetes in the days leading up to training camp this season and missed most of the team's preseason. And like James - played by 300-pound actor Marcello Thedford - Simmons struggled to keep his playing weight up.

But unlike James, who was pressured to push his weight from 300 to 320 pounds by an assistant coach, Simmons felt no such pressure from the Steelers in dealing with his illness. "Everybody around here has been very understanding," said Simmons, the Steelers first round draft choice last season. "That show is not reality, at least I would hope it's not reality around the league. If it was that way, there's not telling what would happen. I hope it does not happen like that at other places. I would hope they would be more sensitive to the situation."

Simmons had problems earlier this season adjusting to playing at a lighter weight. In addition, he had a nagging elbow injury that was also affecting his play.

"I'm 305 now, so I had to make an adjustment to not having that extra lead in my pants," said Simmons, who played last season at 320 pounds. "It's a big difference. You can get away with it, but you don't want to be too light, it doesn't matter how good you are."

He has helped control his weight through a healthier diet, eating more fruits and vegetables and cutting out the binges on sweets. Simmons said it was a struggle for him when he first found out about his illness, just as it was for the James character. Football became a secondary concern for him.

"You've got to do what you have to in that situation, regardless of what the team's saying," said Simmons. "Your health is more important than anything else that's going on.

"I have been 300 pounds since my junior year in high school. I have been this high for a long time. I do not know that I will stay at this weight when I get out of football, but it is just natural for me. Most of the guys are just naturally big guys; there is nothing you can do about it. Maybe you will lose it when you retire. But in this case, sports or nothing else should matter other than your health, it just should not. If somebody wants to make it that way, that isn't right."

That is Simmons' message to other people dealing with diabetes. He knows there are others out there who can learn from how he is dealt with his affliction. And if he helped inspire a television episode dealing with diabetes, he hopes it helped people learn they can have the illness and still lead a normal life.

"I don't have any problem with that at all," Simmons said. "I just went to a diabetes program up at Pitt. It has to be published, people have to know about this. They have to know what's going on and see how other people deal with it who are playing sports and who aren't playing sports."

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