Devon Still’s story has been sidelined — for the most part — by the public outcry against several players in the National Football League who made headlines in recent weeks for displays of domestic violence. But whereas those players were catching the ire of not only NFL fans but also the general populace, the Cincinnati Bengals’ defensive tackle had gone through a roller coaster of emotions. And he had done so because of the realization that some things in life are bigger than one’s own person, career, the NFL. And that bigger thing than the massive Devon Stills? His tiny 4-year-old daughter, Leah.
As Jeff Risdon noted at RealGM Football, Still’s “story transcends sports in a way that should be celebrated.” It is a reminder that there are still good guys in the NFL. Lots of them.
On “Fox NFL Sunday,” the panel talked about the Devon Still story and how the No. 75 jersey was constantly sold out and how difficult it was to get one. Former Oakland Raider great Howie Long noted that two of the show’s production staff had managed to get the much sought-after jerseys even though he could not. He, Curt Menefee, Michael Strahan and Jimmy Johnson discussed the story of Still and his daughter, Leah, pointing out that good stories about good people were being shunted aside while the more sensational stories were attracting most of the attention.
While all eyes were locked on Ray Rice and the disgraceful act of violence he perpetrated on his then-fiance and soon-to-be wife, Janay Palmer, Devon Still had found out he was cut from the Cincinnati Bengals squad. But the struggle he was having caring for his daughter, the light of his life and diagnosed with cancer, had moved the management of the Bengals and the team decided to re-sign Still to the practice squad once they found out that the insurance carried by the team would cover his little girl’s treatment.
Still had not become the star ballplayer the Bengals had hoped in the two years he had been with the team. His level of play during preseason wasn’t even up to the standards to make the team this year, which was why the team had decided to cut him from the roster. He would later say that he couldn’t focus on football when all he could think about was his daughter, Leah.
Leah was diagnosed in June with Stage 4 neuroblastoma. With his child being attacked by cancer, Devon Still had simply lost the heart to play.
But the generosity of his team coupled with the overwhelming support he was soon to receive from Cincinnati Bengals fans, NFL fans, and a nation reaching out to help seemed to propel him to play harder and improve his game. An unfortunate set of team injuries pushed him off the practice squad and into the regular season games as well. Suddenly, Devon Still had become a player to be reckoned with.
But what generated a change in his playing? Hope and gratitude, it would seem.
While most people around the country were locked into the shameful response the NFL had given the Ray Rice incident, not to mention the sudden attention given Adrian Peterson’s abuse case, the Cincinnati Bengals had decided to help Devon Still pay for his daughter’s cancer treatment by donating the proceeds from the sales of his No. 75 jersey — at $100 per — to the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital to support pediatric cancer research.
The jerseys began to sell. In fact, they sold so well on the team’s website, the traffic crashed the site several times. In just four days, over $400,000 had been raised, according to Fox Sports. New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton bought 100 jerseys (that’s $10,000-worth) and personally handed them out.
So while most were reading about the worst of the NFL, the best were working hard in the background. A father was buoyed by an outpouring of generosity. A family was provided hope and support. And a worthy cause benefited as well. All because some things are bigger, more important than a single man, a game, a career.