Devon Still got the earth-shattering news in June: His 4-year-old daughter Leah was diagnosed with stage 4 pediatric cancer.
“I just broke down in tears and I couldn’t stop crying,” Still told ABC News. “It was like my whole world turned upside down.”
After hearing the words no parent wants to hear, Still’s mind understandably wasn’t on his job.
Unfortunately for the 25-year-old, taking extra days off and sticking close to his daughter in Philadelphia wasn’t working out too well: Still is a defensive tackle for the Cincinnati Bengals, who were revving into high gear for training camp and the 2014 season.
On top of everything else, Still had been underperforming: A 2012 second-round pick, the former Penn State captain injured his elbow and suffered a herniated disc last season, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer. Then he injured his hamstring during the team’s third preseason game this summer and had been sidelined ever since, the paper noted. All told over two seasons: 28 tackles and half a sack.
So when Still got the news over the weekend that the Bengals had cut him, he wasn’t surprised.
“I completely understand where the Bengals were coming from when they cut me because I couldn’t give football 100 percent right now,” he told ABC News.
But then he got an unexpected reprieve — from the very team that let him go.
The Bengals signed Still to their practice squad, which amounts to $6,300 a week in salary, full health coverage, and more time to be with his daughter since Still won’t travel with the team for games on the road.
“They could have washed their hands with me and said they didn’t care about what I was going through off the field,” Still told ABC. “It’s kind of like a blessing in disguise for me.”
It’s worth noting that other teams offered Still spots on their practice squads, the Enquirer reported, but on the West Coast — and Still said he won’t turn his back on the team that came up big for him.
“The Bengals were loyal to me,” he told the Enquirer. “I’m not about to up and leave them. Loyalty is something I really need right now because I never know what direction this is going to go with my daughter.”
Editor’s note: The headline on this story initially misstated that it was the player, not his daughter, who was diagnosed with cancer.