No Peace in Fate

When Sean Taylor was murdered, a handful of folks typing about sports insisted that his rowdy past had played a role. Whether this was racism, immaturity or irresponsibility on their part end up mattering not. As soon as the police sunk their teeth into an investigation, the random nature of the crime became apparent.

Chris Henry passed away this morning. From his lengthy rap sheet, litany of suspensions, and career full of false starts, you might think Henry was just another defiant thug. But Henry was something far darker: A young man in grips of self-destruction from the day he entered the league; an immense talent who could often convince you he was the best receiver on the Bengals; and, by all accounts, a nice guy that the team simply refused to give up on. I spent last night reloading Twitter over and over again, which was both disturbing and strangely uplifting. This morning, when Henry's death was announced and the search went crazy, I was stunned at how many people professed a lack of surprise. Nothing makes me more judgmental than the internet. But then I thought about it and realized that, as unlikely an ending as it was, it wasn't just that Henry had been struggling against forces trying to drag him down since college, and that such things rarely end well. It was that, as with Eddie Griffin's grisly demise, the strangeness, excess, and whole miserable situation that surrounds it, this was exactly the kind of thing that would happen to Henry.

Chris Henry was always one of my favorites. He also, like Griffin, belonged to that rare category of truly troubled pros, guys whose run-ins with the law could be sad, even comical. There was nothing angry or threatening about him. Henry was just a sublime athlete who was terrible at being alive. Maybe being an NFL player made it worse; maybe it was true that his kids and impending marriage had helped him turn his life around. He was only 26. But, at the risk of sounding like a total jerk, it's hard to feel like all was well when it imploded so quickly, and with such disastrous results.

In the beginning, I badly wanted to see Henry fulfill his potential, start for the high-octane Bengals, and give me the chance to see him glide into the end zone on a regular basis. Palmer always did seem to look for him. Then, I was content with a big play every few weeks. At some point, that shifted to hoping he'd get to stick in the league. I haven't watched much football this year, but when I heard the first Henry news, I immediately started wondering if this meant his career was over. That quickly morphed into hoping he wasn't paralyzed. Then, that he wasn't going to have serious brain damage, or stay in a coma indefinitely. That was how it was with Henry. He kept us hanging on, rooting for him and utterly sympathetic, even as the gravity dragging him down got steeper and steeper.

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At 12/17/2009 12:13 PM, Blogger Joe P. Tone said...

"Terrible at being alive" indeed, because no one teaches these guys how to be good at it. Their parents try, I'm sure, but everyone else slyly convinces them that amassing the most possible money will insulate them from real-life danger.

Sad story, but a nice take, Shoals.

At 12/17/2009 12:36 PM, Blogger Pearls of Mystery said...

More than anything, I wanted Chris to make it. He was on the right path and was doing the right things.

Love you Slim.

At 12/17/2009 2:12 PM, Blogger Truth About It said...

So was Henry more the type who found trouble or the type where trouble found him?

My intuition tells me it's the former.

At 12/17/2009 2:15 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

I'd change that to "was he trouble, or always getting in trouble?" and then answer neither, he was troubled.

At 12/17/2009 9:41 PM, Blogger Josh Dhani said...

R.I.P Chris Henry. Great post Shoals, well said

At 12/17/2009 9:50 PM, Blogger Dylan Murphy said...

Seeing Chad Ochocinco's interview reflecting on Chris Henry and the shear pain in his eyes really makes you take a step back and realize football is not everything.

At 12/18/2009 10:09 AM, Blogger lost said...

"There was nothing angry or threatening about him." I'm not sure where you came up with this one. firearms charges, recanted accusations of sexual assault of an 18 y-o girl, the Hamilton County charges, and now attacking a pickup truck? I'd say there was something angry about him and something violent, too. A reasonable person would be justified in finding this behavior 'threatening'. My question is, what made Shoals say he wasn't?

As for the man himself, it sounds like he was in the process of turning it around. I'm always a fan of giving a young man a second chance after running in with the law.

However, he died in the process of attacking a woman. That's what he did with his second (seventh?) chance.

and the Chris Henry word verification wizard came up with: 'gully'. fitting.

At 12/18/2009 11:41 AM, Blogger bloomer said...

The f*ck up who's f*cked-upness is in part a result of actually being overlysensitive and romantic at heart is highly compelling - Axl Rose, Tupac, Cobain, even Miles Davis all seem to fall into this category. In the NBA, Iverson and Artest seems to fall into this type. Oversensitivity producing both poetry and thuggish tendencies. Not to be confused with Chris Webber who was faux-poetic and faux-thuggish.

Did Chris Henry fall into this category? I don't know. If he jumped off the truck in a spate of unrequited love after realizing that's all he had to live for in his newly turned around life, that's pretty compelling . . .if the 'he turned his life around' story is a sham and he was trying to abuse his fiancee . . .well that's just thuggish and worse.

As a player he had another compelling characteristic - the freakish athlete who's physical abilities are so insane (and perhaps so overmatch his mental abilities) that he can't ever harness them (and that untamed energy is in part a cause of his off-field behavior). This preseason he showed the promise of putting it together but it wasn't to be. A disappointing season and a disappointing end.

At 12/18/2009 12:42 PM, Blogger lost said...

Admittedly, even with the 911 transcripts there's some ambiguity about how it went down. I'm not really here to try Chris Henry for crimes against women, as he's already been capitally punished for stupidity.

i just took issue with the word 'nothing' as used by Shoals; seems to be taking a little bit too much liberty with the truth for the sake of art.

there are so many young lions out there struggling with these issues. I appreciate bloomer's post which addresses the underlying issue with my post. I wasn't here to troll, it's just a question of whether or not Henry qualifies for inclusion in this kind of schtick.

Sean Taylor died protecting his family, which should immediately deflate any comparison between the two. However, it illuminates the contrast.

Whether it was her turning the wheel to cast him off, or him trying to break into the truck, or his lover's leap into oblivion makes no difference to me. She tried to leave the situation, he pursued. Right then and there he was not only 'trying to abuse' the woman, he succeeded. That escalation is abuse. When you don't let someone leave a conflict, that's controlling, abusive behavior.

these young millionaires live in the space between privileged and disenfranchised. at what point do they cross the line from 'misunderstood' to 'brat' or worse?

it's common enough to see Kobe as the latter, one who manipulates his status to get away with being an a-hole and maybe even a rapist. with Kob', it's easy to make it a class issue; his upbringing seems to give the impression that 'he should know better.' (as though the children of privilege did not rape). however, folks also came with 'here we go again, white girl accused rich black man of rape.' to them he's the victimized black youth, nevermind Italy and Jellybean's money and Phil Jax. to my mind both arguments can be true.

Henry seemed a little bit out of whack, for sure. I'd guess that's what Shoals was after. but at some point you have a duty to seek help. Did he have enough years in the league, enough money available, enough people offering to lend a sincere hand, that we can no longer say 'hey, he had it hard' when talking about him?

I've made my life considerably simpler by drawing a line: once you threaten a woman, you've cut your butt with me. I've always been a person of expansive humanity and compassion, and I've put my feet on the ground to prove it. But everybody has a limit.

you can be Allen Iverson, and wave a gun at some dudes while looking for your wifey, and we can be cool. but henry crossed the line when he jumped in that truck.

I know the truth. I know none of us are in a position to judge about Kobe, Iverson, or Henry (or C-Webb tho he always did seem fake). I know the woman gets hurt either way, in this case tragically.

but if the ghost of Chris Henry is looking for sympathy, it can surely look elsewhere.


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