*As the NFL continues to reel from disturbing infractions among high profile players, there is the heartwarming story of NFL defensive tackle Devin Still, his 4-year-old daughter Leah and the Cincinnati Bengals team that stepped up to care for both of them.
Still learned on June 2 that Leah was diagnosed with Stage 4 neuroblastoma, a rare pediatric cancer. When told of the diagnosis, Still was granted permission by the Bengals to leave organized team activities and minicamp in June to attend to his daughter.
The Bengals had no choice but to cut him in September. However, the team re-signed him to the practice squad so Still would continue to get a paycheck and health insurance.
In an effort to help raise money and awareness about pediatric cancer, Still coordinated a fundraising drive in which donations will be made based on the number of sacks the Bengals record this season.
The team announced Sept. 8 that it was donating all proceeds from sales of Still’s jersey to pediatric cancer research. Less than 24 hours later, more of the defensive tackle’s black No. 75 jerseys had been sold in that time span than any jersey featuring any other Bengals player — ever. Still said recently that jersey sales had surpassed $500,000.
The Bengals on Sept. 11 signed Still off the practice squad and added him to the 53-man roster, where they had a spot available. “I rolled right out of bed,” Still told reporters. “I made it here about five minutes later before they could change their mind.”
Meanwhile, New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton bought 100 jerseys last week, sized small and medium, and donated them to the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. Today, Still got to thank him personally when the two chatted on ESPN Radio’s “Mike & Mike” show for the first time since the purchase.
“I just wanted to thank you for really stepping up to help support this cause,” Still told Payton. “I’m pretty sure you know how many families and how many children you’re helping out with this. And it’s just showing the world how it’s not all about how competitive you can be on the field, it’s about what you can do to help out humanity. And I really appreciate you doing what you did.”
Payton responded by telling Still that he has “inspired a ton of people” with his story — as have Bengals owner Mike Brown and coach Marvin Lewis for supporting Still during a difficult time.
“It just really caught my attention the way they were handling it. And I think it will give other people strength, obviously in a difficult time,” Payton said. “I’m a huge fan from afar, [though] I’ve never met you.”
Payton then joked of their teams’ Week 11 meeting on the field: “We play you down the road, now, we can’t have any sacks on [Drew] Brees.”
Watch ESPN’s moving piece on Devon and Leah below: