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Mourning the Unwritten Story

Henry and family

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.  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. 

With that in mind, I’d rather write about what might have been.  What should have been: the story of a man who proves to the world that through maturation, guidance, and hard-learned lessons anyone can rise above any challenge; the story of a successful player with a long and rewarding career, a blissful marriage, and happy and secure children. 

Twenty years from now, a man named Chris Henry, sporting a twinge of gray hair and wearing a yellow jacket walks on a stage in Canton, OH.  He takes the podium and smiles, a multi-millionaire, absorbing the adulation of thousands of fans, the adoration of a beautiful wife, and the admiration of his grown children. 

What a story that would have made! 

I wish someone could have been there to preserve that story.  I wish I could have been there, with the perspective that comes with age, to help the young lovers restore calm and remember the fragile promise they had in each other.  I wish I could have prevailed upon them to stop and think about just what they were risking in a fleeting moment of anger and unbridled emotion. 

Unfortunately, no one was there, and the story will remain unwritten. 

I weep for that.


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6 Responses to “Mourning the Unwritten Story”

  1. Tyler mershon says:

    Thank you for taking the high road on this tragedy… I’m just a fan but I’m loyal to my team through anything… I can’t tell you how long I cried when I heard of his death. Now there are jurnalist who are doing nothing but rubbing the image of a man who had turned his life around in the mud. Your vision twenty years from now put tears in my eyes again because all of us in Bengal nation knew that’s exactly where he was headed. Chris Henry, no matter how bad he was, was a kid making millions right after finishing college. Who knows how anyone would act in those situations but that doesn’t mean that’s who would always be. Chris will be missed for a long time… His Bengal family and fans loved him unconditionaly and still do. Rest in peace Chris Henry R.I.P.

    • Lia says:

      Thank you so much. Beautifully written. You wrote…”I wish I could have prevailed upon them to stop and think about just what they were risking in a fleeting moment of anger and unbridled emotion.” I wish the same thing

      • Thank you, I am a Tongan and Sydney Australia is my home. When I saw the news even now I cry and pray for Chris Henry’s Soul. All I can say that love is so powerful and strong and anger is part of love. We all know what is like when you love someone. You love them to death and sometimes you get angry with each other and that is part of loving someone.

        All I can say is my prayers & my thought are with Loleini and the children and may Chris Rest in peace. OFA ATU

        THE STORY WILL GO ON AND ON. We all learned from the past, appreciate the present and anticipate the future. Every step gives us the thrill of anticipation as a very bad/tragic experience become a strength, then possibility, then a probability and do not give up, never give up. Yes! This powerful feeling elevated us to where we are today. Tragic gave us the strengths to do something about it AND our eyes will open to lots of options.

        I am sure that there are many people with the same situation like ours. For me I proved them when I was working for the funeral Industry; many of my colleagues were there for the same reason as me. I want to reach out to those who were or about to experience the same problem. I have written a booklet on what what do when someone dies will help people put them to ease when loosing a love.

        Life sometimes is so unkind. Life’s worth when someone wanted to spend, share and have their life with you, in richness and in poor, in good health and in sickness and in happiness and in unhappiness, to them, they give you everything, give you children. When you love someone, you enjoy the tough and the harmony of life. So seek help when you think there is a warning sign, just walk away, before it is far too late.

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