This big load of nasty is Devon Still, a hulking defensive end who played his college football at Penn State, weathering all the degradation and corruption that hellhole can dish out (okay, just kidding–I’m a Pitt fan, but I like PSU, both the school and the community, quite a lot) to become a team captain and win All-America honors. That’s saying something.
The dream continued for Still when he was drafted in the second round of the 2012 NFL draft by the Cincinnati Bengals, a perennial doormat of a team that has, to the shock of almost every creature in the universe, lately shown some signs of life. He made the team and over the past few years has been working his way up the depth chart, building a career. The 2014 season had all the earmarks of a potential breakout year for Still, but it wasn’t to be.
In June of this year, his 4-year-old daughter, Leah, was diagnosed with stage 4 neuroblastoma, a rare form of cancer that sounds so awful I’m not even going to look it up to learn more about it. I don’t want to know, and fortunately I don’t have to. For Still, the news was staggering. Unable to concentrate on his craft–or give the Bengals the attention his contract merited, Stills decided to step back and focus his time and his energy on his little girl. Understandably, the Bengals were forced to cut him from their roster, leaving the young man unemployed and uninsured. No big news here, right? This happens to a lot of people, every day, in America–where health care is regarded by a large, vocal minority as a privilege to be earned.
And then something unexpected happened. In addition to the regular 53-man roster which each NFL team carries through the season, they also maintain a Practice Squad of ten players, generally developmental athletes–younger, less accomplished athletes who may not cut it yet, but who show promise and might improve. Practice squad players don’t dress for games, but they practice, often as “scout team” players who simulate the upcoming opponent each week.
When the Bengals announced their Practice Team roster, at the bottom of the list was Devon Still, because the Bengals administration decided that the guy who reluctantly turned his back on hundreds of thousands of dollars and the game he loved in order to be with his child deserved to keep his health insurance, not to mention the 16 weeks of $6300 paychecks he’ll earn whether he makes it to practice or not. Not content with that, the Bengals are printing up an edition of Devon Still jerseys–usually a distinction for the best and most popular players, not low profile defensive ends–which will sell for $100 each, a bargain for NFL branded jerseys. All proceeds will go to cancer research.
Around western Pennsylvania, we refer to the football team in Cincinnati as the “Bungles”. Historically, they find a way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, but this time around they got things just right. My hat is off to them. Sal-ute!