Tonight, millions of sports fans watched the ESPY Awards, which is ESPN’s annual awards show that stands for Excellence in Sports Yearly Award. The show, which recognizes individual and team athletic achievement and other sports-related performance aired on ABC for the first time after airing on sister network ESPN for the past 22 years.
The show has produced many memorable moments, including the emotional “don’t give up, don’t ever give up” speech given by Jim Valvano in the inaugural 1993 show (given just 8 weeks before he lost his battle to cancer). The legendary NC State men’s basketball coach now has an award in his name. Tonight, that award went to Devon Still who accepted the Jimmy V Award for Perseverance on behalf of his 5 year old daughter, Leah. Still had hoped that his daughter would attend the annual event with him. However, she was unable to make it while she is still recovering from rounds of stem-cell therapy and radiation treatment.
Leah’s story has inspired many around the world. At the age of 4, she was diagnosed with pediatric cancer and was given a 50/50 chance of survival. Her father Devon, who plays Defensive Tackle for the Cincinnati Bengals first shared the story on his Instagram account: “I debated with myself whether I was going to post anything on social media but I felt it would be beneficial for my family. Last night I found out my daughter has cancer. I decided to let ppl know not for sympathy because I’ve come to the point where I no longer feeling sorrow but to ask that y’all keep my daughter in your prayers. The more prayers that go up the more faith we have that she will overcome this obstacle.” He began sharing updates, including his pre-surgery pep talk video that quickly went viral.
The story gained followers and support from all around, while Leah went through several rounds of chemotherapy and the softball sized tumor was successfully removed. The Bengals, who had recently cut Still from the team, brought him back as a member of the practice squad so that he would have insurance to help pay the estimated $1 million in medical bills. Shortly afterwards, he was back on the active roster. The team paid tribute to Leah by donating proceeds from jersey sales to support cancer research and donations began coming in from different sources. Even the New England Patriots paid tribute by having Patriots cheerleaders wear Still’s Bengals jersey during the second half of a game, while the crowd in Gillette Stadium gave him a standing ovation.
So tonight, when Still took the stage, it was an emotional moment. Still shared his story about having the realization that he had experienced more by the age of 26 than most people had in their lifetime, while at the age of 4 his daughter hadn’t begun to “understand what life was all about.”
He described the moment he was informed that cancer had spread through his daughter’s body and that he decided: “We could have lost faith…or I could give my daughter’s battle with cancer a purpose…we decided not to give up.”
In his speech, Still got real and shared about the toll the battle took on him and how he “hit rock bottom.” In front of a crowd that was both teary-eyed and listening intensely, he continued sharing about his own personal battle, admitting “I would think about going to the nearest liquor store and buying the biggest bottle of vodka I could find and drinking it just to take away all my pain. But when I thought about it, I couldn’t do it because every day I preached to my daughter that she couldn’t give up…she had no escape from her pain that she was going through.”
He thanked his parents for showing him the importance of family sticking together and how love conquers all and “for all of the life lessons” they taught him. He then thanked his daughter for a valuable life lesson when he stated “I always used to dream about how I was going to be able to show you so much about life, but in the 5 years I’ve been with you, you’ve taught me more about life than I can ever do.”
Life is full of pain. However, we can choose to persevere and focus on the positive moments that we are given. Devon and Leah are a true inspiration and reminder to continue the fight no matter how difficult things get. Through perseverance, we can tell ourselves that we’re ready for today and “let’s do it.”
This makes two years in a row that the award has gone to a sports figure who persevered through the challenges brought on by the disease of cancer. Last year’s recipient was Stuart Scott, former ESPN SportsCenter Anchor, who also gave an inspiring speech about his battle with cancer.
Since Jimmy V’s emotional speech, the message continues 22 years later…”don’t give up, don’t ever give up.” Thank you for the reminder, Devon and Leah. We wish you both continued success.
Here is the full speech, given by Devon Still tonight: