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

domestic dispute.

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

together?

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

sure.