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The Positive Legacy Of Chris Henry

I can’t remember being as sad over athlete’s death as I was this past week when I heard about Cincinnati Bengals Chris Henry. Most of it was focused around the human side of it. He leaves behind three young children who will have very limited memories of their father.

The fantasy football community was very aware of him and his skills. I drafted him for my team this season in hopes that his Randy Moss-like abilities would finally blossom. But outside of football circles, he wasn’t well-known to the general public. He was underrated. He caught just 55 passes in his five-year pro career. If anything, Chris Henry was a name less synonymous with football and more so with trouble. As much as our society largely loves to see athletes fall from the pedestal upon which we placed them and then kick them as they thud to the ground (i.e. Tiger Woods), we also love a good story of redemption.

And that was Chris Henry. Or at least, it should have been.

There were two Chris Henrys. Some years ago, there was the immature football player who was told was told by his college head coach that he was an embarrassment to himself. This Henry had plenty of potential to be a tremendous NFL player, but personal conduct stunted his professional life. Four run-ins with the law between December 2005 and June 2006 resulted in two league-enforced suspensions and brought much doubt into his NFL future.

Henry was cut by the Bengals on April 1, 2008, one day after yet another arrest.

But after that, it looked as if Henry was turning his life around. He said that he wanted to become a better family man. When he was re-signed by the Bengals in August 2008 — against the blessing of head coach Marvin Lewis — it was deemed as his last chance to stay in the NFL and finally become the player that many expected him to be when he came out of West Virginia in 2005.

As time went on and Henry continued to stay off the police blotter, teammates talked about how Henry had rededicated himself. He became more focused on the important things in life. Bengals owner Paul Brown said that one of the reasons he decided to let HBO’s cameras film the team’s training camp for its 2009 series “Hard Knocks” was to showcase players such as Chris Henry. He wanted to people to see how far Henry had come from his rougher days. During the summer, Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer said Henry was “on the verge of a Randy Moss-type career.” Henry was on the road to being a true redemption story to never be forgotten.

And then came the  Dec. 16. Redemption cut short. Potential forever unfulfilled. That’s why I did shed some tears on Thursday morning. Oh, what might have been?

When I think of Henry now, I can’t help but compare his demise to that of Len Bias. Young, extremely gifted athletes, stunningly gone in flash. Henry may not have been the best NFL player ever — some said Bias would be greater than Michael Jordan — but it was all about potential. It could be argued that Henry had the tools to be the best at his position.

Unfortunately, everyone knows who Chris Henry is now. But for what he did in the past year, he completely changed how time will view him. He could have been forever seen as just another athlete who couldn’t ever get out of the street life. He could have been known as a lost cause. Instead of “NFL wide receiver” being placed before his name in a news introduction, he could have been forever tagged with “oft-troubled”. But Henry changed his ways. He was transforming his life. Because of that, I think his past transgressions will be seen like a blip his life radar.

He will be the subject of future documentaries about a future eliminated. But for what he did over the past year, the last word on Henry will always be positive. He will no longer be seen as Chris Henry: Wasted talent. He will go down in history as Chris Henry: He could have been the next Randy Moss. That’s not a bad way to be remembered.

P.S. I can’t wait to see Chad Ochocinco wear Henry’s No. 15 during Sunday’s game in San Diego.

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  1. December 19, 2009 at 10:16 pm

    I want Ochocinco to wear the jersey.

    And the NFLPA is saying it will pay for any fine he incurs, and pay that same amount to a fund set up in Henry’s honor.

    It’s lose-lose for the NFL if they fine Chad, I think.

  2. spokes310
    December 20, 2009 at 12:17 am

    The NFL said today that the PA couldn’t pay Ochocinco’s fine. I don’t think that matters. What are they going to bill him? Another $50,000 for a heart-warming gesture? He’ll pay that up just fine.

    Ooo, unintended pun.

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