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.