There have been no shortage of stories this year about wrongdoing, cover-ups and corruption in the NFL. But for all the negativity surrounding the league and a couple of its star players, the story of a backup defensive lineman and his heroic daughter has reminded fans that there are good guys in the NFL — and that football can bring about a whole lot of good.
Devon Still, a backup defensive tackle, isn’t the most prominent member of the Cincinnati Bengals. But Still’s 4-year-old daughter, Leah, has been the most inspirational person associated with the league all year.
Leah was diagnosed over the summer with Stage 4 cancer, but has since had a tumor removed and is hopeful for a full recovery.
Read on for more about Leah and her amazing story.
1. Leah Was Diagnosed With Neuroblastoma in June
On June 2, Leah was diagnosed with Stage 4 neuroblastoma, a form of cancer that can lead to the growth of tumors in young children, after doctors discovered a tumor in her abdomen.
Devon announced her diagnosis in an emotional Instagram post, asking fans to keep Leah in their prayers and vowing that Leah wouldn’t “let anything hold her down without a fight.”
Here’s the full text of the post, which is embedded above:
I debated with myself whether I was going to post anything on social media but I felt it would be beneficial for my family..last night I found out my daughter has cancer…I decided to let ppl know not for sympathy because I’ve come to the point where I no longer feeling sorrow but to ask that y’all keep my daughter in your prayers the more prayers that go up the more faith we habe that she will overcome this obstacle…if y’all know me y’all know this girl is my world I know that she is strong and she won’t let anything hold her down without a fight..thanks everyone for the continued support of my family
Still told The MMQB’s Peter King that the diagnosis came after Still had traveled to Delaware, where Leah lives with her mother, to watch her perform in a dance recital. But the Stills never made it to the recital.
Still told King:
She had a fever, and so we took her to the emergency room. They thought it was some kind of infection, and they did some tests. They would touch her hip, and she would jump—there was a lot of pain there. So they did an ultrasound test and saw a mass. One of the doctors said there was about 10 things it could be, and they went over the list of things and the last thing was ‘cancer.’ I never took it very seriously, because it was the last thing they said.
Doctors initially told Still that Leah had about a 50-50 chance of survival, but Still is more upbeat following months of chemotherapy and a surgery Leah underwent on September 26.
2. Leah Underwent Successful Surgery to Remove Her Tumor on September 25
After more than three months’ worth of chemotherapy shrunk Leah’s tumor from the size of a grapefruit to the size of a tomato, she underwent a successful surgery on September 26 to remove the tumor.
The process was nerve-wracking for father and daughter alike, but Devon lightened the mood prior to the surgery with an upbeat pep talk that culminated in both Devon and Leah giving a fist bump to the camera.
Here’s how Devon described the surgery on Instagram:
After a 5hr 50min surgery the surgeon was able to remove ALL of her tumor and all of her lymph nodes and her right adrenal gland where it all started from…best news I’ve received in a long time #PrayForLeah #GodIsGood #ThanksForYourSupport
3. The Bengals Kept Him on the Practice Squad so He Could Keep His Health Insurance
Knowing that Still would be unable to devote his full attention to football, coach Marvin Lewis waived Still before the season began in September. But with Still facing $1 million in legal bills for Leah, Lewis called Still into his office and told him the team wanted to keep him on its practice squad so that Still could keep getting a pay check and — most importantly — keep the health insurance that would be vital to paying for Leah’s care.
Still was later signed to the active roster, and was in uniform Sunday night during the Bengals’ loss to the New England Patriots. He got a loud ovation from the crowd at Gillette Stadium when the Patriots showed a video featuring Leah on the scoreboard.
The Pats’ cheerleaders even dressed in Still’s No. 75 jersey during the tribute.
4. Proceeds From Sales of Still’s Jersey Go to Benefit Pediatric Cancer Research
It’s not often that a defensive tackle’s jersey is one of the most popular items in any team’s pro shop. But that’s exactly the case with Still’s jersey, and for good reason.
The Bengals are donating all proceeds from sales of Still’s jersey to the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. And after just three weeks of sales, a team official told ESPN that sales were reaching the $1 million mark.
All sorts of people throughout the country have bought jerseys, and Saints coach Sean Payton bought 100 of them.
Payton has never met Still, but the two had a chance to talk on the phone during the ESPN Radio’s Mike and Mike in the Morning show on September 18. Listen to the call here:
5.Leah Is Featured in a Music Video Put Together by the Today Show’s Hoda Kotb
Leah’s story will be featured on NBC’s Today show Monday morning, and her face is already familiar to Today viewers. To commemorate pediatric cancer awareness month in September, Today co-host Hoda Kotb — herself a breast cancer survivor — brought together singers Sara Bareilles and Cindy Lauper to create a music video starring a group of young cancer patients that included Leah.
The song featured in the video, “Truly Brave,” is a mashup of Bareilles’ “Brave” and Lauper’s “True Colors.” Watch the music video itself above and a behind-the-scenes look at its creation below.