For years, it has seemed that the Cincinnati Bengals have run less of a football team than a work release program for troubled NFL players. From 2000 to 2011, the Bengals had their players arrested 32 times, according to a database maintained by the San Diego Times-Union. They only won 73 games in that span. They had almost half as many players arrested as they had wins. Cedric Benson. Adam Jones. Jerome Simpson. Chris Henry. Assault. Drug trafficking. Brandishing a weapon. These aren’t petty charges. But despite that reputation, sometimes the Bengals do the right thing. At times, it has meant giving a player a second chance to get his life in order after an arrest. This time, it may mean giving a sick child a second chance at life.
Bengals defensive tackle Devon Still learned in June that his four-year old daughter Leah had cancer. Still was in the middle of off-season workouts with the team at the time. Understandably, like any parent, Still spent as much time as possible with his daughter. He missed valuable practice time to attend her treatments. He shaved his head in solidarity. He skipped out early and showed up late. Football became secondary.
Last Saturday, the Bengals faced tough decisions regarding their roster. Fifty-three spots were available for seventy hard-working, dedicated players chasing their lifelong dreams. Many open positions had several people battling for one or two spots. The Bengals ultimately decided that they had to release Still. Roster spots are finite. There are only so many spots a team can fill. Still had missed a great deal of camp, and was (understandably) distracted from football. So, on the final cut-down day before the season starts, the Bengals released Devon Still.
Two months after learning his daughter had stage 4 cancer, Still found himself unemployed. He potentially could have lost his health insurance. Sure, as an NFL player, Still made a good salary, when compared to the general public. He signed a 4-yr/$3.768M deal, with only $1.18M guaranteed. He earned probably around $2.1M total before being released. That sounds like a good bit, but you have to figure half of that went to federal, state, and local taxes. And highly paid people have high expenses. He could probably afford better doctors than others, but cancer doesn’t have a means test. It attacks anyone.
But the Cincinnati Bengals stepped up and did a good thing–the right thing. They offered Still a spot on their practice squad. He was, after all, a good enough player for the full team when he wasn’t preoccupied. He was still young and talented. And, he needed some support. While on the practice squad, Still will earn $6,300 per week and be able to keep his health insurance. And, the practice squad doesn’t travel, meaning he’ll be able to stay close to home and spend time with his ailing daughter.
But they didn’t stop there. The Bengals have partnered with Still, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia to raise money and awareness for the fight against pediatric cancer:
— Cincinnati Bengals (@Bengals) September 5, 2014
Quite often, the questionable things that teams or players do get magnified. We just see another example of pampered, rich athletes and their teams screwing up. But rarely do we see the same amount of ink or toner expended to applaud them when they do right. As a business with obligations to shareholders, Cincinnati made a sound business decision in releasing Still. But by immediately offering him a spot on the practice squad, they also did the right thing. This is a win-win situation for all parties involved, and the Bengals should be commended for doing it.
Get well soon, Leah.