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If Reed walks away, it should be with his head held high

Nobody should feel bad at all if Ed Reed is not in uniform this afternoon for the Ravens' season opener. Not the fans, not the Ravens, definitely not Reed himself.

It's tempting to plead here for Reed to just take a seat, to take a pass on playing against the Cincinnati Bengals at M&T; Bank Stadium, to not even suit up for real action until the nerve problem that has kept him out throughout training camp is completely cleared up. Even if it means he never suits up again. Even if it means his Pro Bowl, potentially Canton-bound NFL career is over before his 30th birthday (which is Thursday, by the way).

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But that temptation can be resisted - not because of any lust to see Reed risk his long-term health, but because Reed has consistently come across as someone who is willing to safeguard that health and not give in to that lust. If he does decide that playing again is too dangerous, it won't be because someone begged him, but because he has a grasp of what's going on.

Certainly a better grasp than we outsiders have. We sit on the sideline, figuratively, and pass judgment on players who take the cautious path and on the ones who throw caution to the wind. From one side of our mouths comes ridicule of Shawne Merriman, of Maryland and the San Diego Chargers, for playing on a knee every expert agrees needs surgery. "Has he gone crazy?" we think.

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From the other side come knuckleheaded conspiracy theories about Ravens veterans exaggerating injuries as some sort of act of civil disobedience against new coach John Harbaugh and his tougher practices. "Are they just lazy?" we think.

Reed looks and sounds like a man who isn't exaggerating anything, who has life-altering decisions to make and is torn about them.

"I'm definitely weighing my options on that. I'm not out there trying to be some kind of hero or anything like that, in the situation that I have," Reed said last week. "If there is not discomfort, I'm going to play, but if there is, I'm not going to play."

Of course, this is about more than "discomfort," which is just a symptom of the primary ailment, nerve impingement, affecting his shoulder and his neck. As Reed put it, "Anytime you talk about an injury to the neck, the shoulder, that's something totally different than a ankle or a wrist or a knee. I've had those before."

Now he's entering the unknown, areas that affect not just quality of life, but also life itself. Nerves, spinal cord, arteries, brain. Who wouldn't find it scary to contemplate those consequences?

Yes, he acknowledged, he has heard some say he should play through the injury - "You hear that a lot," he said. Easy for others to say. Even other players, although there are no signs that anyone connected with the Ravens has implied that. Harbaugh has given no sign that the decision will come from anybody besides Reed. Good for him.

Reed says he is as informed as he can be about his options. Everybody else likely is, too. From a purely competitive and entertainment standpoint, everyone would like to see him today, backstopping the Ravens' dangerous but hurting defense, testing himself against the Bengals' passing attack - including, yes, Chad Eight Five (English translation).

But if he can't play, he can't play, and that goes for this week, this season and ever again. If Reed decides, after six brilliant years, he can live with walking away while he still can, we can live with it, too.

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Listen to David Steele on Wednesdays at 9 a.m. on WNST (1570 AM).

points after

* It might just be me, but I'm not sensing the same religious and sociopolitical commitment in Chad Ocho Cinco's name change as in Muhammad Ali's.

* Looks like the Orioles finally realized Dave Trembley wasn't the one who couldn't pitch into the fifth inning.

* That sudden, blinding headache and bleeding from the ears you experienced Friday night? It came at the exact moment Dick Vitale went into the Basketball Hall of Fame.

* J.T. O'Sullivan is starting at quarterback in the NFL and Daunte Culpepper couldn't find a job?

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* Michael Phelps was in court recently, too. His new name: Michael Ocho Oro.



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