This has been a hellish year for black men. It feels like it’s been open season on black men of all hues. Considering several young men have been gunned down or shot by non-minority authority figures since the last time I wrote about Mike Brown (the people in Ferguson are still protesting and keeping the nation informed on what’s going on there, by the way), my feeling isn’t biased nor is it hyperbole. Couple that with the “falls from grace” we’re watching in real-time of Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson and it’s kind of tough to find positive images of black men that the media is covering.
Thank you, Devon Still, for being a somewhat of a bright spot.
Cancer is a disease that affects more Americans than any other disease. Based on statistics, each of us knows at least one person who has been affected. I’ve talked about how cancer has become a death sentence in my own family. So whenever I see a story about a young child fighting against cancer, it strikes a nerve within me.
Still was a 2nd round pick in 2012. When his 5 year old daughter Leah was diagnosed with stage IV neuroblastoma in June, football suddenly became a distant thought. Amidst all of the salacious NFL stories, Still’s private matter became a public interest. The Bengals did the noble thing and added Still to the active man roster so that he could afford Leah’s expensive medical care. As any father would do, Still has been by his daughter’s side; spending his off days at the hospital and leaving as soon as games are over. He put his dream on hold and has been understandably distracted. Whenever I see Still share an update about Leah, I see a man who’s incredibly strong. I also see a normalized snapshot of black men that people tend to forget exists.
Although, they don’t intend on it, Still and his daughter have become voices for the often forgotten. People don’t care about cancer until it personally affects them and their circle. Players and teams alike have showed their support by purchasing Still’s team jersey. Between jersey sales and donations, $1 million and counting has been raised for the Cincinnati Childrens’ Hospital. Money is always the bottom line when it comes to research and treatment. On a human level, Still is using his platform to try to make a difference.
This isn’t the first time we’ve seen an athlete use a position of notoriety to further a positive cause. Last year, Michigan State’s basketball team, particularly Adreian Payne, captured our attention when an 8 year old fan was battling her cancer. Lacey Holsworth unfortunately lost her battle before the NBA draft. Certain images, like the one above, remain vivid in my mind though.
Being a professional athlete is a privilege. Whether it’s gun violence, domestic abuse, or cancer, people pay attention when your heart is in the cause. I think the reason why Devon and Leah resonate with us is because we take for granted the innocence of our children. I don’t see a NFL player. I see a man who is having to live a parent’s worst nightmare. #Pray4Leah reminds us that nothing else matters when you’re clinging to more time with your child. For many people, they discover their purpose through becoming parents.
Call it sappy, but I believe that every person has a purpose. We leave our mark by using our lives, the good and the bad, to impact someone else. There is purpose in your pain. There is purpose in all of the “why me” moments. And if you have a platform, big or small, consistently use it for good. Be genuine in all that you do. You never know when someone will find your blog, tweet, or FB status and be effected to the point where they effect someone else.
Be the spark.