Friday, September 5, 2014

In non-football-related decision, Bengals make move that could help save a little girl's life

Is it allergy season? Did I get dust in my eye? That must be it. I'm reading about the Cincinnati Bengals signing DT Devon Still to the practice squad and my eyes are getting all watery.

Making the practice squad as a three-year veteran normally wouldn't be cause for celebration. But for Still, it could drastically affect his—and his daughter’s—life.

You see, in June, Still's 4-year-old daughter, Leah, was diagnosed with Stage 4 pediatric cancer. Since her diagnosis, Still understandably hasn't been able to concentrate on football as he did before. So when the 25 year old failed to make the Bengals 53-man roster, Still — who drafted him 53rd overall out of Penn State in the 2012 draft — said he wasn't surprised.

Cincinnati DT Devon Still and his 4-year-old daughter Leah, who is battling Stage 4 pediatric cancer.
Photo courtesy of Man_of_Still75 via Instagram
“I completely understand where they were coming from,” Still said of getting cut. “I can’t give football 100 percent right now. In the business aspect they want guys to solely focus on football, which is understandable. We are here to win this city a Super Bowl and right now I am not in a position where I can give football 100 percent of everything I have.”

Then, with what can only be described as a completely-non-football-related decision, coach Marvin Lewis called Still and offered him a spot on the team's practice squad. The move means the Bengals will pay Still $6,300 a week and, more importantly, provide medical insurance to him and his daughter, who completed her fourth round of chemotherapy last week.

The practice squad in Cincinnati, Lewis also pointed out to Still, is the perfect opportunity for the team to help Still, because he’ll continue to make more than $100,000 if he stays there all year, and he’ll maintain his health insurance at a critical time. It also means he won’t travel on road trips, so he’ll have the opportunity to spend more time in Delaware with his family and travel with them to Philadelphia as Leah continues chemo.

So while Still was disappointed not to make the roster, he said it feels like a blessing in disguise.

“They could have just washed their hands completely of it,” he said. “Say [sic] 'we don’t care what’s going on in his personal life, we just want people who can care 100 percent on football,' that’s what they pay us to do. But they thought about my personal issues and allowed me to come back on the practice squad so I still have insurance."

Stories like this make me love sports even more; the camaraderie, the brotherhood and the bond between players and teams. 

You might be saying, "of course they did that." But trust me when I say this doesn't happen everywhere — a coworker of mine recently told me that her husband’s company let go of an under-performing 60-year-old employee. When he called to say he was scheduled to get a pace maker in the next month, and would they please keep him on the insurance at least until that was complete, they said “no.” Sadly, he passed away from a heart attack shortly thereafter.

It would have been easy for the Bengals to completely cut ties with an under-performing second-round draft pick who wasn't putting his whole heart and soul into football; but it also would have been wrong. Still now has a loyalty to the team that drafted him and kept him in his time of greatest need, allowing him not only the insurance to pay for his daughter’s treatments, but the ability to be there for her as she goes through them. He said he hopes to repay them soon by living up to the expectations they had when they drafted him in the second round.

“Loyalty is something I really need right now because I never know what direction this is going to go with my daughter,” he said.

This is a reminder that there are a lot of great people in the world. Cheers to the Cincinnati Bengals, and prayers for Leah – stay strong little girl, you've got millions of people praying and rooting for you.