PITTSBURGH - Troy Polamalu fears one day he will take a blow to the head that will result in serious long-term negative effects on his brain. And he has no plans to change his style of play or torpedo-like manner of tackling.
Speaking publicly for the first time since being knocked out of Sunday's win against Kansas City due to concussion-like symptoms, Pittsburgh's All-Pro safety said he feels good. He went through his second consecutive full practice Friday and is listed as probable for Sunday's AFC North showdown between the Steelers (8-3) and Cincinnati Bengals (7-4).
Polamalu remained on the field for several seconds and got up woozy after his helmet struck 290-pound Steve Maneri's knee while making a tackle against the Chiefs.
Polamalu said he plays with a perpetual internal struggle between the constant threat of serious injury and not letting it affect his performance.
"That's the fear I think that any player faces," he said. "And that's the fear that any individual faces, overcoming any certain fears of being a coward, you know, and letting your teammates down or turning down a hit. That's the beautiful thing about sports is these fears are right in your face and it's pretty obvious if you turn them down or not.
"Oh, I have the fear, no question about it," Polamalu added. "But I'm willing to fight it, for sure."
Polamalu refused to discuss the precise diagnosis that forced him out of Sunday's game, continuing the Steelers' reluctance to officially term it as a concussion.
Sunday was the second time in six weeks Polamalu left a game early with a head injury. Counting high school, college and the pros, Polamalu has been diagnosed with at least seven concussions.
Asked if he was concerned how those repeated blows will have a cumulative effect on him, Polamalu said "not at this time, no."
"I'm well aware of the research, well aware of the frenzy that's kind of surrounded this particular injury," he added. "I also realize that with the amount that I have had that I'm probably under a lot more scrutiny, and we're under a lot more scrutiny than other organizations."
Teammate James Harrison was fined four times last season for a total of $100,000 for illegal hits, most notably one that resulted in a concussion for Browns receiver Mohamed Massaquoi. Ryan Clark has been fined this season for a late blow to the head, and the Steelers have been vocal in their dislike for the NFL disciplinary system under which Commissioner Roger Goodell doles out fines.
In recent years, the league has placed increased emphasis on player safety in terms of concussions and head injuries.
When asked if the heightened awareness and attention given to concussions has been overblown, Polamalu said: "Only time will really tell to answer that question.
"One, there's probably no more serious injury that anybody could have than a concussion," he continued. "You can function well with blown legs and arms and shoulders, but not with the brain.
"However, there is definitely a lot of attention that's been brought to this that we haven't had in the past. A lot of football players in college and the NFL sustain a lot of concussions. Obviously, there's a few cases that have been well-documented."
Polamalu said the launching and lunging style of tackling that has helped contribute to his success and popularity "absolutely does put you at risk," but added there wasn't anything he could have done differently in bringing down the tackle-eligible Maneri or Maurice Jones-Drew in the backfield on a key fourth-quarter 3rd and 1 during an October game.
"I don't know if it's possible at this point to change style of play," Polamalu said. "I think that's the case for anybody in the NFL, especially regarding the rules and the fines that we have. They're going to continue to happen just because we're instinctual players at this point, you know? Of course we're professional athletes, but it's still tough to change these habits that we've formed since we were 8 years old."
Polamalu said coach Mike Tomlin would have the final say on whether he plays Sunday but added "there's no way I would play if there was any sort of hesitation or symptoms."
Polamalu isn't the only Steelers star who had full participation in practice Friday and is considered probable to play Sunday. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (hand), center Maurkice Pouncey (illness) and linebacker LaMarr Woodley (hamstring) are expected to start against the Bengals, barring setbacks.
Woodley hasn't played since Oct. 30.