Devon Still and his cancer-stricken daughter, Leah, have captured the hearts of NFL fans this season. But a recent allegation from Leah's mother may cast a dark cloud over the inspirational story.
The New York Daily News posted segments from a letter delivered to the NFL on Tuesday from civil rights attorney Gloria Allred and an accompanying declaration from Channing Smythe, who is Leah's mother and Still's ex-girlfriend, that accuse the player of cutting off child support payments.
In the documents, the Daily News reports, Smythe and Allred allege that Still has not paid child support for the 4-year-old girl in four months. Smythe wrote that her daughter's condition prevents her from working and that the two of them have been forced to move in with a friend of her mother's and live off of food stamps.
“I have an outstanding medical bill for Leah for an ambulance for her,” Smythe said in her declaration, according to the Daily News. “I have been unable to pay the ambulance bill, and it is not covered under insurance. If I were receiving child support for Leah I would be able to pay this bill, but since Leah’s father is refusing to provide child support I am unable to pay the bill for the ambulance.”
The Daily News reports that Allred's letter asks the league to investigate whether Still is in violation of its personal conduct policy for having stopped paying child support and says that a family attorney recently demanded immediate payment. Still allegedly refused to do so in a phone call to Smythe and told her he'd see her in court, the article says.
Still's agent and the NFL didn't respond to requests for comments from the Daily News. Still tweeted a link to the article Tuesday night along with this quote (originally from Oprah Winfrey): "Truth allows you to live with integrity. Everything you do and say shows the world who you really are."
On Wednesday, Still issued a statement through the Bengals.
“When [Leah] gets older, I want her to be able to look back and read about her positive impact on the world, not about the private issues her parents were going through,” Still said. “I am not going to retaliate against the mother of my daughter, and the untruthful reports in the New York Daily News article, by criticizing her character.
“I am going to allow the court system to handle this matter, as it has been doing these past couple of months.”
Leah was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, a rare pediatric cancer, back in June. Still, a third-year player, struggled during training camp but was signed to the Bengals' practice squad so he could keep his NFL salary and medical benefits to help cover his daughter's treatments, which he has said could reach $1 million.
Still was promoted to the team's 53-man roster in September. Leah saw her father play for the first time earlier this month at Paul Brown Stadium, where the Bengals presented a $1.3-million check to Cincinnati’s Children’s Hospital for pediatric cancer research. The money was raised through sales of Still's No. 75 jersey.
Smythe told the Daily News on Wednesday that, despite the allegations, she thinks Still is a "good parent."
“I don’t consider him a deadbeat dad,” Smythe said. “I know he loves and cares for his daughter and he is there for her. I just need him to help me financially.”