The NFL has been in need of a positive story in the wake of the Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson scandals, and in the last few weeks Cincinnati Bengals’ defensive tackle Devon Still has come to the rescue.
Still has drawn national headlines since it was revealed in September that his 4-year-old daughter, Leah, is battling cancer. The Bengals have used funds from the sale of his jersey to donate to the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and pediatric cancer research. Ever since the team’s initiative began, Still’s #75 jersey has been a best-seller, and Leah’s fight has served as inspiration to cancer victims across the country.
Even Still’s competitors have rallied to his cause. New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton personally bought 100 jerseys in support of Still and his daughter, and the New England Patriots cheerleaders wore them in solidarity with the cause during a game against the Bengals, according to ESPN.
On Thursday night, Leah will be on the sidelines for the first time watching her father play professional football, as the Bengals take on the Cleveland Browns at Paul Brown Stadium in Cleveland. She arrived early on Thursday and gave her dad explicit instructions in a video recorded during the trip.
“Daddy, I’m on a plane,” Leah said to her father in the clip. “We have to go on another plane because this plane doesn’t go all the way to Cincinnati.”
“And you pick us up!” she added.
Leah has Stage 4 neuroblastoma and recently underwent surgery to remove a tumor. She is currently undergoing chemotherapy bur has been approved by her medical physicians to travel. “She’s just excited,” Still told WCPO in Cincinnati. “She said how she’s going to be yelling in the crowd and stuff, so she’s been feeling good.”
Still had been in danger of being cut by the Bengals when he learned of Leah’s illness. He feared that the loss of health coverage through his NFL career could be disastrous for his daughter. But the Bengals have thrown the full weight of the organization behind Still, placing him on the practice squad so he wouldn’t lose his benefits.
And now that he’s getting to take the field again as an active player, he’ll have something special to play for.
“It’s going to be added motivation just knowing my daughter is watching me,” Still told ESPN. “I want her to be able to hear how the crowd cheers that loud whenever I make a tackle, so I’m going to go out there and do whatever I can to put a smile on her face.”
Still’s story has also warmed the hearts of NFL fans who have watched the sport fumble its handling of both domestic violence and sexual assault cases over the years. The NFL is currently revising its policies regarding these issues, and the league is currently under an independent investigation into how they handling the Ray Rice controversy led by former FBI director Robert Mueller.