The Tragedy of Chris Henry


This is just too sad for words:
Charlotte-Mecklenburg police say Cincinnati Bengals receiver Chris Henry has died, one day after suffering serious injuries upon falling out of the back of a pickup truck in what authorities describe as a domestic dispute with his fiancee.

Police say Henry died at 6:36 a.m. Thursday. Henry was 26.

Away from the team because of a broken forearm, Henry was rushed to the hospital Wednesday after being found on a residential road. Police say a dispute began at a home about a half-mile away, and Henry jumped into the bed of the truck as his fiancee was driving away from the residence.

Police said at some point when she was driving, Henry "came out of the back of the vehicle."

What do you do at this point? What do you do if you're the National Football League and you see, time and again, a serious problem with your players, with the lifestyle they find themselves in as rookies, and domestic violence?

Rookie orientation in the NFL is a series of classes or briefings where new players are shown some of the pitfalls that go with big money contracts, old friends from the neighborhood, new girlfriends and wives, and everything that goes with becoming a high profile member of a community.

I think the NFL deserves credit for rookie orientation, but perhaps what it needs is an ongoing briefing, held every year for every team, that helps show players how society is evolving. Call it the Insider Briefing. Make it about players talking to players, not some crusty old veteran giving a PowerPoint about what happened to him when he woke up drunk in his driveway in a stolen prom dress when he played for Denver in the 1980s. You haven't heard that one? I made it up. I made it up because a variation of that happened to me when I played for Princeton. Don't ask, because we don't talk about the prom dress in the Rogers household. Suffice it so say, Mr. Peej was able to prevent the Princeton cops from pressing charges against me because we were able to salvage the dress and the reputation of that high school girl. It cost us all of our mad money for the month, but it was worth it.

The Insider Briefing can be as simple as having a troubled player go around and talk about what he thinks is right or wrong about being an NFL player who runs afoul of the law. It should not be about shame. It should be someone at that very elite level being able to go into a room without being judged to talk with men at his elite level and it should be a conversation, not a lecture. I realize that these men play on teams. In point of fact, they play on teams that are a part of a League, and that league is an ever-changing and evolving thing. I would like to see something put in place that takes a player like Chris Henry, who has had trouble, and maybe a Peyton Manning and three guys who don't start who play on other teams and has them go around during training camp to spend some time with other players to talk about what they see, what they know about groupies and hangers-on, what they think can be done to deal with a girlfriend who is spending too much money, what can be done about family members who ask for money, and what guns, violence and fear of failure can do to someone who is exalted above all others.

I hate to tag you with this, Mr. Manning, but, so far, you haven't screwed up and driven your vehicle into a crowded Outback Steakhouse with a naked grandmother on the hood and an Uzi on your lap. Let's help other players avoid such a thing, and let's help you with their perspective on keeping the media, the whores, the drugs, the politicians, and the Disney Corporation at bay.

Don't think I'm not looking at you, Dwayne "the Rock" Johnson. I see you flirting with Disney. We're here to bring you back, brother. I know you didn't get to play in the NFL, but let's be honest--Miami is damned near the NFL, and is practically the development league. Mr. Johnson has a nephew drafted by the Browns and another nephew at UCLA--and we need to save him from the Disney Corporation. We need to reach out to a brother in need and see if someone can hook him up with some honest cheddar.

It's probably not realistic, but it can't be about blaming this young man just for doing something stupid and dying too young. There are so many people who live at the intersection of fame, fortune, and celebrity who can help. It doesn't matter if you're the late Steve McNair or someone who got cut and never made it. Everyone needs help understanding what can happen and what can go wrong with you mix money, family, and fame or near fame in a big ol' bowl and try to fight over who gets to take the first drink and how much and when they can drink it.

On the off chance that someone who plays on special teams for another team who had a thing with a fiancee three years ago can go into a room and talk to people like Chris Henry and say, "you know, sometimes, it's better to just let her drive away. Let her go have a moment. Let her think about things and come back when she's ready." That may or may not have been the thing that caused Henry to pause and walk back into the house. I don't know.

Realistic? I don't know. I don't want to write a condemnation when writing something a little more constructive might go down better than a poison pill or just some tut-tut joke at someone's expense. This is not a joke--there's no reason this young mad had to fall into the road and die in a hospital.