NFL needs to get 'Leah Strong'

The story of Bengals defensive tackle Devon Still and his unquestionably brave daughter Leah has captured the heart of America and provides the NFL with a unique opportunity to overcome at least some of its recent negative publicity.

Shortly after Leah was diagnosed with Stage IV neuroblastoma, a pediatric cancer with potentially fatal consequences, Still was cut from the Bengals, meaning he would lose his health insurance and ability to pay for treatment. Luckily, the Bengals offered Still a spot on their practice squad, thus saving his insurance and limiting his travel away from Leah. She is now recovering after a surgical resection of her tumors and her fifth round of chemotherapy.

(Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports)
(Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports)

The response by many within the NFL has been staggering. After the Bengals promised to donate all proceeds from Still’s jersey sales to pediatric oncology research, New Orleans coach Sean Payton purchased 100 jerseys and distributed them to at-risk youth. The Patriots played an unforgettable tribute during their Week Five match-up with the Bengals culminating with owner Robert Kraft pledging $25,000 in honor of Leah.

With Still jersey sales to generate over $1 million for the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, we are left wondering how the league will contribute. The organic support for Still coincides with the NFL’s fifth celebration of Breast Cancer Awareness month, and The NFL raises an average of $1 million annually for the American Cancer Society through sales of the NFL’s Pink Ribbon gear.

(Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports)
(Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports)

Still’s story highlights an area in which the NFL can make a significant impact: pediatric cancer research. Only 3.8 percent of all the federal cancer research funding is allocated for childhood cancers, yet $1.9 billion is spent annually on hospital admissions alone for child cancer patients.

Matching the Bengals’ donation would be a terrific start for the NFL. If the league takes the opportunity to support some of its youngest fans, this October could be the NFL’s most special and charitable month yet.

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