A tragic end to Henry’s troubled life
He was Cincinnati’s best downfield wide receiver but Chris Henry
couldn’t completely run away from the off-field trouble that had
long followed him.
He was by all accounts a changed man, yet Henry died Thursday
from injuries suffered in a truck accident following an alleged
Henry was a menacing figure on the field. But at the same
time, he was described as “gentle” and “a good person” by some of
his mourning teammates.
These kinds of contradictions followed Henry throughout his
five-year NFL career. Was he the “one-man crime wave” one of the
many judges he appeared before labeled him? Or was he the man who,
according to many, was slowly but surely putting his life back
Henry had the chance to stage the greatest personal
turnaround of any player who has run afoul of NFL commissioner
Roger Goodell and his personal conduct policy. Henry had stopped
the sociopathic behavior that earned him 14 games worth of
suspensions. Drunk driving, drug possession, alleged assault,
illegal use of a firearm – it’s all there in the arrest
records. Henry was so out of control that he was once released by
Bengals owner Mike Brown, who is known for having a soft spot in
his heart for talented miscreants.
To his credit, Henry took advantage of a second chance when
re-signed in the 2008 preseason. The 6-foot-4, 200-pound Henry had
reemerged as a key cog in Cincinnati’s offense. Henry was beginning
to fulfill the athletic potential that could have made him a star.
According to one Bengals source, the introverted Henry had
quit the public drinking that triggered so much aggressiveness and
recklessness in previous incidents. He became more involved with
his girlfriend and three young children. He recently became
engaged. He stayed out of trouble.
At age 26, Henry was finally becoming an adult.
Or so it seemed. But as the Tiger Woods circus has reminded
us, not even close friends or the media know everything that goes
on with athletes behind closed doors.
After landing on injured reserve in early November with a
wrist injury, Henry and his fiancé Loleini Tonga returned to
her hometown of Charlotte, N.C. for wedding planning. On Wednesday
morning, local police say the two had a spat that led to Tonga
driving away in a pickup truck and Henry jumping inside the bed to
follow. The two continued arguing, police said, before Henry was
ejected from the vehicle.
Those circumstances may prompt skeptics to wonder how much
Henry had truly changed at all. The Bengals, though, insist he had.
“People were surprised we stood by Chris during his
problems,” Brown said in a team-released statement. “We knew Chris
to be different than his public persona. To the best of his
ability, Chris reached out to the team, his friends and family.
Everyone tried to help — and sometimes it went awry — but Chris’
heart was always in the right place. He was a good person and he
was on the road to doing well in his football career.”
Added Lewis: “We had seen Chris expand this year as both a
person and on the field. He had grown and matured.”
The Bengals (9-4) were already struggling to replace Henry as
a deep threat in their passing game while gearing for a surprising
playoff run. Cincinnati now also has to overcome the shock of
losing someone who had once again become a trusted teammate.
“Everyone makes mistakes,” teary-eyed wide receiver Chad
Ochocinco said Thursday inside the Cincinnati locker room. “But I
don’t see how Chris was supposed to go already, especially when he
was on the right path.”
Whether it was truly the right path may never be known for