Thursday, December 17, 2009

Henry's death sends shockwaves through the NFL

To say Chris Henry had his share of issues would be an understatement. Rich Rodriguez referred to Henry as "an embarrassment to himself and the program" when he was at West Virginia and, after three suspensions and 14 missed games from 2006-08, Henry was cut by the Bengals, the only team that brought him in for a pre-draft visit in 2005.

But the Bengals would give Henry a second (or third, or fourth) chance four months later when they re-signed him, and this time he made a concerted effort to turn his life and his career around. He played in eight games this season and had 12 receptions for 236 yards and 2 touchdowns, giving the Bengals a deep threat they have sorely missed since he broke his arm against Baltimore. Cincinnati has scored just 84 points in the five games without Henry, struggling to stretch the field and make big plays on offense.

Most importantly, he really was turning his life around. He spent more time with his fiancee and three children as well as working out with his teammates. And since his season-ending injury, Henry was in the process of planning his wedding in March. All these things added together are what makes this such a tragedy.

Henry jumped into the back of a pickup truck driven by his fiancee after a domestic dispute and eventually fell out of the back, suffering life-threatening injuries when he was found on the road by police. He died at 6:36 a.m. this morning.

Bengals personnel described Henry as "soft-spoken," "pleasant" and somebody who was comfortable to be around. And despite his trouble with the law, he was well-liked by teammates and ownership alike. Everybody you ask will tell you about the strides Henry had taken as a person and as a player.

Henry was just 26 years old and seemed to be maturing by the day. His death comes just two years and three weeks after the death of Redskins safety Sean Taylor, who was shot in his home at the age of 24.

Like Henry, Taylor had been in the midst of the maturation process and was turning his life around as well, spurred by the birth of his daughter 18 months before and his distancing himself from a circle of friends that had gotten him into trouble.

It's always sad to see a life cut short too soon, especially a promising one that seemed to be heading down the right path after years of missteps. One of the truest signs of character is the ability to handle adversity and learn from your mistakes, a concept Henry really seemed to be grasping as the years went on.

It's a true shame that Henry didn't get the opportunity to come full circle and completely atone for the mistakes he made early in his career. Everybody has their demons, and Henry had finally faced them and seemed to be winning the battle.

It's easy to root for somebody like that to continue their transformation into a productive member of society and it's sad that we no longer have that opportunity, the same thing I said when Taylor was shot in 2007. Head coach Marvin Lewis called Henry "a beacon of hope," and it's always a sad day when hope dies.

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