Archive for Saturday, December 19, 2009

Don’t deify Henry, even in death

December 19, 2009


Death doesn’t turn Chris Henry into a saint.

It’s always tragic, of course, when a young life ends well before its rightful time — and with such stunning suddenness. Mourn his passing. Pray for his survivors.

But we cannot — and should not — forget that the legacy of Henry’s pro career is that of one of the poster children for the NFL’s zero-tolerance policy to inappropriate conduct.

Many grieving his loss insist that the troubled Cincinnati Bengals receiver finally “got it.” A light clicked on upstairs that he was down to his absolute last chance at redemption. He became a positive presence in the locker room, crediting his fiancee for providing the structural and emotional anchor he had long lacked.

But then word filtered in from Charlotte, N.C., that police had discovered a gravely injured Henry sprawled on a residential street. He reportedly was thrown from the back of his pickup with his fiancee driving. How did this happen? Was there a domestic dispute? Was a criminal act committed? Was it simply a bad decision resulting in a tragic accident?

We go back to the three words that define the relationship between athlete and fans.

We ... don’t ... know.

We don’t know who these guys really are. We don’t know if some are as morally oblivious as police blotters or tabloid headlines make them appear. We don’t know if some are as repentant and socially enlightened as friends and handlers make them look once their transgressions meet the light of public scrutiny.

We don’t know why those blessed with special physical gifts can’t grasp how their unique athletic skill doesn’t guarantee them endless forgiveness for stupid behavior. We don’t know why unnecessary risk-taking becomes a natural adrenalin rush to so many.

They think they’re bulletproof, but then Chris Henry comes along with another reminder of how fleeting and precious time is. We don’t know if anybody will pay attention to another NFL player meeting a tragic fate and perhaps learn a valuable lesson.

Henry, with Pacman Jones and Michael Vick, transformed commissioner Roger Goodell into his new role of NFL sheriff with their reckless and relentless disregard for staying out of trouble. Goodell suspended Henry for eight games in 2007 due to his habitual pattern of finding his way into police custody.

Henry was a troublesome player for Rich Rodriguez at West Virginia. Rodriguez suspended him for conduct detrimental to the team and called him an embarrassment to himself and the program. The Michigan coach chose to recall the happier times warmly.

“I enjoyed our time together at West Virginia, and we shared a lot of great moments,” Rodriguez said in a statement Thursday. “I have many fond memories of our three years together and will remember those forever.”

Bengals owner Mike Brown placed his reputation on the line re-signing Henry last year, just months after Cincinnati cut him after his arraignment on an assault charge — his fifth arrest. “If you only knew him from hearsay,” Brown told HBO’s “Hard Knocks” last summer, “you’d think that he’s some kind of ogre. It’s not true. He’s a good person. When you see him up close, you’ll find that you’ll like him.”

Maybe Henry wasn’t as thuggish as his rap sheet suggested. But it only speaks to how we never really know anything until it’s too late.


anon1958 8 years, 6 months ago

We don’t know why those blessed with special physical gifts can’t grasp how their unique athletic skill doesn’t guarantee them endless forgiveness for stupid behavior.

Actually some of us do know the answer to this question, its only the writers and columnists in the sports section that cannot read the answer written on the wall in giant black block letters.

Often, gifted athletes are fawned on and forgiven every trespass by parents, fans and coaches from elementary school through college. They are consistently taught by the people that are responsible for their well being that gifted athletes have a free pass to do things other mere mortals cannot.

Even if a particular student, luckily or through their own sensibilities, evades serious trouble as a youth they have first hand experience and examples of the free passes handed out to other gifted athletes that are their peers.

Eventually, after enriching college coaches and athletic directors they are handed a huge paycheck.

It is a credit to many gifted athletes, that more of them do not implode due to a life time of failure by coaches, parents and institutions that were responsible for the education of these young men.

It doesnt really help that most sports columnists are dumber than the army's mascot mules.

No offense to the mule I am sure it is as smart or smarter than most mules.

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