During NFL’s rough week, Still inspires

Former Penn State defense lineman Devon Still tackles former Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase.  Still, who now plays on the Bengals’ practice squad, has a four-year-old daughter who is battling Stage 4 neuroblastoma.

By Peter Bailey-Wells

Last week was a rough one for the NFL.

Many members of the NFL were cast in a poor light. Ray Rice, Roger Goodell, Greg Hardy, Adrian Peterson, Ray McDonald, the Ravens, the Vikings, the Panthers, the 49ers and everyone in between is under fire. They’re under fire for poor decision-making, violent tendencies, and for having a business-first mentality.

Even ESPN, which has a tendency to be in bed with the NFL, brought the pain in the form of an emotional monologue given by SportsCenter anchor Hannah Storm on Sunday. Storm is one of ESPN’s most recognizable anchors and probably the company’s most recognizable woman, meaning her opinion carries some real weight.

Storm came down on the NFL for violating the trust of female football fans and was brought to the edge of tears when explaining how she discussed the Ray Rice situation with her daughter. The fact that ESPN allowed her to present her feelings so clearly on the air indicates that even the NFL’s best friends in Bristol aren’t happy with how the league is doing business.

So when talking on the phone with my mom Friday, the idea of boycotting the NFL came up. What good reason could I, a lifelong football fan, use to persuade myself that the NFL deserves my attention? I hung up the phone without an answer.

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    Then I remembered why.

    Devon Still.

    Devon Still is why you should still love football.

    Still is a third-year defensive tackle for the Cincinnati Bengals who is a former Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year at Penn State. Still has a four-year-old daughter who is battling Stage 4 neuroblastoma, a sometimes-fatal cancer that spreads from the spinal cord or kidney. She is being given about a 50 percent chance of survival.

    Football took Leah Still’s cancer, what could have been a miserable story, and shined some light on it.

    The Bengals cut Still from the team at the end of the preseason but retained him on their practice squad, in part because of his predicament with his daughter. They knew his preseason level of play wasn’t at his normal standard because he was preoccupied. They felt sorry for him and wanted to provide him with medical insurance.

    Then last Monday came.

    A tape of Ray Rice assaulting his wife was released by TMZ and the sporting world was turned on its head.

    However, that night, buried under the stories about Ray Rice and Roger Goodell, the Bengals announced they would sell Still’s No. 75 Bengals jersey and donate all of the proceeds to pediatric cancer research and the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. Jerseys cost 100 dollars.

    The next night, New Orleans head coach Sean Payton was driving home from the Saints’ practice facility. He heard Still’s story on the radio, and decided to buy 100 jerseys on the spot. Those jerseys, bought with money out of Payton’s pocket, were donated to Cincinnati-area Boys and Girls clubs and to kids at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital.

    On Thursday, to provide a cherry on top of what might have been the most emotional week of Devon Still’s life, Still was called up to the Bengals’ active roster.

    On Friday, Still tweeted that jersey sales had netted over 400,000 dollars, all of which was donated as a part of the Bengals’ decision.

    On Sunday, Still made three tackles in the Bengals’ 24-10 defeat of the Atlanta Falcons.

    Above all things, sports are about people like Devon Still. For every story about a Ray Rice or an Adrian Peterson, there are 10 stories about a Devon Still. We just have to find them. SportsCenter periodically produces a feel-good segment titled “Why We Love Sports Today.” These are the stories we need to look a little harder for.

    Football is just like any other sport. They all have an ugly underbelly, and football’s was exposed last week. But there are a thousand clichés about silver linings and dark lights at the end of tunnels and everything else, and all of them are true.

    We love sports because they continue to make us smile. So don’t give up on football. You will be frustrated by the NFL again, I promise, but I also promise that for every time that football brings you down, football will be there to bring you back up again.

    Peter is a sophomore in Media. He can be reached at baileyw2@dailyillini.com. Follow him on Twitter @pbaileywells22.