Over the last month a number of ugly incidents in the NFL have painted the picture that football is a professional sport full of thugs and punks. Thanks to a brave young girl named Leah and her dad, Defensive Tackle Devon Still, we are reminded that this sport has the potential for a lot of good, especially during hard times. It demonstrates a strength that only comes from weakness.
Tough and resilient are common words used in football. For Devon Still they became a way of life when his daughter complained of pain and he took her to the hospital. It was there that she was diagnosed with Stage IV bone cancer. After many painful tests Devon finally was able to take her home. As they drove away from the hospital she grumbled to her dad that if he had not taken her to the hospital she would not have been sick. It took more than muscle to beat back to tears and explain cancer and hospital tests to a little 4 year old girl, but that is what a good dad does, and Devon Still is a good dad. He is tough and resilient and did not let the overwhelming emotions of the moment keep him from showing compassion and strength as he cared for his cancer stricken daughter.
Leah and Devon’s walk through the tough times has also affected others around the league including other teams and the press. Leah’s story, Devon’s care for his daughter, and even the Cincinnati Bengals organization have been looked at differently because of this crisis. The profits from every #75 Cincinnati Bengals jersey that is sold ($100) has gone to research for childhood cancer, and almost $1 million has been collected from the sale of over 10,000 jerseys. Many people, including players, have stepped up and showed their support to Leah and Devon. Shawn Payton, the coach of the New Orleans Saints purchased 100 shirts in support of Leah’s fight against cancer. In a recent game against the Patriot Cheerleaders wore #75 Still jerseys in support of Leah.
All of the garbage that has been in the press about the NFL makes one forget that there are lots of good people who play football. There are a lot of good people in the NFL that realize that there is more to life than football. True toughness and resiliency are discovered when a person has right priorities and responds with strength to circumstances in which her or she is powerless.
Now in preparing this article I also found another reaction to this story. I discovered people who lack compassion and who would rather step on the weak and vulnerable if it means that they would benefit from that action. I found haters and hateful speech about how teams should care only about the game, “To hell with everyone else, including this little girl! My team better win or else!” That type of attitude is destructive to a sports team and it will also produce sad, pathetic and isolated people.
Devon’s love for his daughter reminds us of someone else. Someone whose love and compassion is able to reach down to us during our darkest hours and sustain us. When we lack strength to complete the task Jesus carries us through, no matter what the conclusion. Devon Still’s nasal strip at the last game said “Leah Strong.” That was more than just a statement of support and love toward his daughter. It was also a statement that said strength comes from a team that relies on a strength that cannot be measured in statistics or records.
Devon and Leah are Still strong? Where do you get your strength?