Three days later, Bengal nation is still in shock over the loss of WR Chris Henry. I know I am. The fact is that I cannot get it out of my head. I am preoccupied with what exactly happened, and for God’s sake, why?
The details regarding what motivated the actions of Henry and his fiancée, Loleini Tonga, are understandably still being investigated. It will likely be weeks, even agonizing months, before the whole story comes out. Whether criminal acts were committed or if charges will be filed remains to be seen. For now, there is the swirling carnival of fan conjecture, news stories and media speculation.
Meanwhile, for those who knew the man they called “Slim” there is but grief and reflection.
Individuals throughout the league offered their condolences, their insights, and formal press releases. The extended families of the Bengals and the NFL sorrowfully reacted to the news. Bengal players talked openly about the kind hearted, soft spoken teammate and human being they knew. Owner Mike Brown restated his well-documented “fondness” for Henry. Head Coach Marvin Lewis described the hard work and effort he saw in him over the last several months. Carson Palmer quite eloquently ruminated on the good soul that was so tragically misunderstood by the outside world. And Chad Ochocinco wept.
While most see this as the most appropriate reaction, others are careful to remind us of the numerous past transgressions of the man one judge called “a one man crime wave.” As they recite the rap sheet to us they wish to reiterate that Henry was far from perfect in life and should not be made a saint in death. They tend to stress perspective. Indeed, Henry made many poor decisions over the last few years. Who knows what others he may have made in his last few fleeting moments on the earth?
I could join in and review in this space the arrests, the convictions and the league suspensions. Or I could take the other side of the argument, and write a few paragraphs about his renewed commitment and his apparent desire to preserve the last chance at salvaging his life and career.
I could discuss the career itself; after all, he had enormous talent and limitless athletic ability. I could fill several pages with memories of how he struck fear into defensive backs around the league with his speed, jumping ability, and uncanny nose for the end zone. This is certainly worth memorializing, and will be difficult to replace.
Pragmatically, perhaps I should review what this tragedy does to the Bengals psyche as they head to the west coast for a tough tilt with a red-hot San Diego team with huge playoff implications hanging in the balance. After all, life goes on.
But that doesn’t feel right. At this moment, none of that matters. What matters is that a man’s life was snuffed out in the blossom of youth and unlimited promise. What matters is that a loving family grieves; a fiancée is widowed before she is married, and beautiful children awoke this morning fatherless. These things transcend football.
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