While Cincinnati Bengals defensive tackle Devon Still may once have been best known for his work on the field, he is now recognized for something more.
For his unwavering strength, determination and devotion to his daughter, Leah, in her fight against cancer and in the face of a continuing serious personal struggle, Devon and his daughter will be honored with the Jimmy V Perseverance Award on July 15 at The 2015 ESPYS presented by Capital One.
On June 2, 2014, Still's world was turned upside down when his 4-year-old daughter, Leah, was diagnosed with stage four neuroblastoma, a rare form of cancer that develops in young children. In light of this devastating news, Still chose to put his family's needs first and channeled his time, energy and focus into fighting alongside his daughter and being a voice and activist for pediatric cancer awareness.
As a result of his needing to focus more on his family and less on the field, Still was cut from the Bengals in late August of 2014 and was instead offered a spot on the practice squad to ensure he would be able to care for Leah's needs financially while also being able to spend time alongside her during her fight against cancer. In the weeks following his release from the team, Still spent three weeks sleeping next to his daughter in the hospital despite his own back injury, and shaved his head with a vow not to grow his hair back until Leah did. The fight they are in continues today with Leah currently undergoing aggressive and groundbreaking stem cell replacement treatment.
"This award is a testament to the inspiration Devon and Leah are to all the families who are suffering from similar circumstances," ESPYS executive producer Maura Mandt said. "It is our hope that, with this award, we can send them more strength as they face this latest challenge."
Throughout the Still family's hardships, the team continued to show its support by donating all proceeds generated from Devon's jersey sales to pediatric cancer treatment and research facilities at Cincinnati Children's Hospital. In the jersey sale's first 48 hours, Still's number 75 became the fastest-selling jersey in team history with more than 1,000 purchases across the country.
"The perseverance that Devon and Leah have shown throughout this unfortunate process is incredibly moving," said Connor Schell, senior vice president, ESPN Films and original content, who oversees The ESPYS. "Each day that she fights, her father is by her side and their love and strength has captivated all of us in the sports world and beyond."
Born in Camden, New Jersey, Still chose to play for Pennsylvania State University and was considered one of the best defensive prospects, winning the 2011 Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and the Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year. He was selected by the Bengals in the second round of the 2012 NFL draft as the 53rd overall pick.
The Jimmy V Perseverance Award was named after, and inspired by, the late Jimmy Valvano who became the award's raison d'être at the 1993 ESPYS. While battling cancer, Valvano gave an emotional acceptance speech that included his famous words "Don't Give Up. ... Don't Ever Give Up!"
Valvano passed away less than two months later, but his words were never forgotten. The Jimmy V Award is given to a deserving member of the sporting world who has overcome great obstacles through perseverance and determination. In 2007, Women's College basketball coach Kay Yow became the very first recipient of the Jimmy V Award. Past recipients include Eric LeGrand, Anthony Robles, George Karl, Dick and Rick Hoyt, and Stuart Scott.
The 2015 ESPYS will be hosted by comedian, actor and television host Joel McHale, most widely known for hosting "The Soup" on E! as well as playing Jeff Winger on "Community." The ESPYS will be broadcast live on ABC at 8 p.m. Wednesday, July 15, from Nokia Theatre L.A. LIVE in Los Angeles.