Bengals defensive tackle Devon Still and his 5-year-old daughter, Leah, were named recipients of the Jimmy V. Award at the ESPY's Wednesday in Los Angeles.
Still accepted the ESPN courage award in his daughter's honor, then brought the audience to tears as he described his family's ordeal in the face of a rare form of pediatric cancer called neuroblastoma that inflicted little Leah, who was first diagnosed 13 months ago. The Jimmy V. award is given to a sports person who has been an inspiration in the face of trying times.
Still said it felt like he was trapped in a nightmare, and said he would regularly make trips to the hospital chapel where he would ask God why he gave cancer to his daughter, instead of him. "The way I looked at it was, I was blessed with the ability to play football, and by the age of 26, I was able to experience things a lot of people don't in their life," said Still. "And by the age of 4, my daughter hadn't even (begun) to understand what life was all about."
He said he hit bottom when he was forced to leave his daughter at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, so he could come back to Cincinnati and play football for the Bengals: "My daughter, being only five, she couldn't understand the sacrifice I was making for her as a parent. She just knew that she wanted her dad, and I wasn't there all the time. You know, that really hurt me, and made me feel like I wasn't a father."
NBA star LeBron James gave the award to Still, and the two hugged on the stage. "God answered my prayers, because my daughter went into remission," Still said to audience applause. He thanked the other cancer patients he met the last year for inspiring him to stay strong. He also thanked Bengals' owners for letting him be a dad first, and put football second, as he focused on his daughter's health.
He ended with a special message for Leah, who was watching on TV at the hospital. Her condition is improving, but she was unable to attend Wednesday night's ESPY's ceremony because she's still receiving daily treatments that prohibit her from interacting with many people. Her cancer went into remission in March, but she is still receiving daily chemotherapy treatments.
"From the moment you were born, you molded me into the man I am today," Still said, looking into the camera. "You know, I always used to dream about how I was going to be able to show you so much about life. But in the five years I've been with you, you've taught me more about life than I could ever do. I love you, and I'm just proud of the way you've been handling yourself this past year."
In her absence, Leah filmed a thank you video which was shown at the end of her father's speech, and gave a hello to her father's presenter. "Sorry I couldn't be there everybody, but thank you for supporting me while I beat up cancer," she said. " Hey LeBron, hey Daddy!"
The Bengals renewed Still's contract this offseason. The 2012 NFL draft choice played in college at Penn State. He's a native of Camden, New Jersey.