Chris Henry Another Senseless Statistic
By every account, in the hours since we heard Henry was gravely injured Wednesday evening before dying Thursday morning, it sounded as if he had learned his lesson. Unlike Pacman, he'd stayed out of trouble. The only time Henry's name was appearing in the paper was in the Cincinnati Bengals' box score, not in the Cincinnati police department's arrest report.
Henry was proving quietly to be the best kind of story there is in sports -- if not in any walk of life -- that of redemption. In fact, at the end of the day, what Henry was trying to do was really what makes sports so compelling, coming back from something -- from a strikeout, throwing an interception, missing a game-winning free-throw, losing the big game, fending off career-threatening injury, changing your persona in the eyes of your teammates and fans.
To me, it wasn't that Henry was so young, just 26, that made his death so tragic. Young people from this country die every day in Afghanistan and Iraq. They die every day on city streets in our country and garner only a paragraph or two on the inside of whatever is left of our newspapers. If they die particularly violent deaths, they may make the front page and lead the evening news.
To me, it wasn't that Henry could earn millions of dollars as a pro athlete and live in a fabulous house that some TV show might want to feature. Lives shouldn't be valued by one's earning power or bank account, although we do it all the time.
Instead, what made Henry's demise so sad to me was that, in the end, he didn't escape the hole he once found himself in to become a glowing example that a life can be turned around.
I called Bengals' coach Marvin Lewis just a couple of months ago to ask him about what appeared to be Henry's quiet reversal of lifestyle. Lewis told me through team spokesman Jack Brennan that he preferred to leave well enough alone at that moment but added that he was very proud about how well Henry was behaving and performing.
In early November, Henry broke his arm against the Baltimore Ravens. He was done for this season.
Who knows whether he'd still be alive today had he not been on injured reserve and been at practice in Cincinnati on Wednesday? Instead, he was visiting Charlotte to see his fianceé, Loleini Tonga. Police said they wound up in a spat that triggered the event, falling off the back of a pickup truck, which cost Henry his life.
So Henry wound up being what he was struggling not to become, another statistic. That's what saddens and angers me all at once. He had a chance to make it, but he didn't.
He became another black man between the age of 25 and 34 to succumb to what, for now, looks like unintentional injury, the second-leading cause of death for black men Henry's age. Homicide is the No. 1 cause of death for black men Henry's age and the Charlotte homicide unit is investigating the circumstances of his death.
Henry was rearing three children with his fianceé, too. Now they've become statistics. Two out of every three black kids in our country grow up in fatherless homes and, as such, must battle the rest of their upbringing against a plethora of potential problems, including a greater propensity for substance abuse, poor educational performance, teen pregnancy, lawbreaking and suicide, to name the worst.
A lot what we are hearing and reading of Henry's death in the past few hours is far too reminiscent of another pro athlete's death, Washington Pro Bowl safety Sean Taylor's. He was even younger than Henry and was living another life that seemed headed in the wrong direction. Then, he also appeared to have reversed his life's course just before death found him. Taylor was shot to death.
In the immediate aftermath of Taylor's death, there was some suggestion that Taylor paved the way to his own demise. The trouble he once seemed to dwell in had merely caught up to him, some people said. That hypothesis proved wrong.
I would've thought a lesson was learned from such knee-jerk reaction to a violent death of a one-time troubled young man, but Henry's death evidenced that it hasn't been. Some observers have already uttered that they aren't surprised by Henry's early death because of his problems with the law in the past. A few even suggested such an end was to be expected.
The details of what lead to Henry's death are not yet known for certain. Early reports suggested his fianceé was driving away in a pickup due to a disagreement she was having with him and he jumped in the bed of the truck.
Did she know he was there? Did she try to shake him out of the truck? Did he leap to his death as one witness told a Charlotte TV reporter? We'll learn later.
All I know is that, just because he was in trouble before, doesn't mean he had what happened to him coming his way. That is as unfounded as it is disgusting.
When Henry was sat down by the league for half a season almost two and half years ago, Bengals' coach Lewis said: "While we regret the circumstances that called for it, it's good for both Chris and the Bengals to have the matter resolved. Our team will move forward, and now it is up to Chris to acquire a more mature understanding of his responsibilities as a player for the Bengals and a representative of the NFL."
Henry appeared to be accomplishing just that. How sad.