WR John Ross on leaving Bengals training camp to care for son with COVID-19: 'I'm a father first'

CINCINNATI -- Bengals wide receiver John Ross III had no regrets about leaving training camp to take care of his 3-year-old son in California following a positive COVID-19 diagnosis.

Following Ross' first practice since he rejoined the team, Ross said there was no hesitation to leave when he learned his son and the son's mother contracted the virus. "There was no thought behind it," Ross said on Sunday. "There was no chance of me staying. With all due respect to anything, I'm a father first."

The fourth-year wide receiver was placed on the reserve-COVID-19 list on Aug. 12 as he went to Southern California.

Ross left so quickly that he debated on not telling the team before he got on the plane. However, since he said that would have been unprofessional, he did tell his agent, coaches and Cincinnati's front office before he departed.

"Just the response that I got from the coaches, it put me in a different head space," Ross said. "It was very respectful, and I appreciate how they went about it and how much they were there for me."

According to rookie wide receiver Tee Higgins, that support was reciprocated by his teammates. Initially, they didn't know the reason for Ross' absence. But once they found out, they were more than understanding.

"Family comes first no matter what," Higgins said. "We had his back no matter what. He came back to practice and we welcomed him like he has always been here."

Ross did his best to stay sharp while he was in California. He said he resorted to sneaking out of the house late in the evening -- once even at 2 a.m. the next morning -- to run at a nearby park. Ross said he returned to Cincinnati on Aug. 20 after his son and the son's mother felt much better.

The fifth-year wide receiver out of Washington is looking to prove why the Bengals selected him in the first round of the 2016 draft. Cincinnati declined to pick up the option on his rookie deal this offseason, which puts Ross in a contract year.

After struggling with various injuries in his first four years, Ross is looking forward to showing his worth this season.

"It's on me to show them why I should be here longer," Ross said. "That's how I look at it."