During the six years I spent attending the University of Cincinnati, I did some pretty stupid things -- many of which rivaled that for which the beleaguered Chris Henry got himself fired by the Cincinnati Bengals and banned from the NFL for a year. So when I heard this week that Henry told a Hamilton County court that he is completely broke, I thought to myself, "Damn. I’ve been there."
On top of the fact that Henry’s professional football career very well could be over, his lawyer said yesterday that the young man who has earned more than $2.5 million doesn’t have enough money to pay for a written transcript of the trial. Jurors acquitted Henry of an assault charge this week but prosecutors will retry him on a misdemeanor count Monday.
Henry’s Florence home has been auctioned and his automobile repossessed. He will soon enter the School of Odell Thurman, and after graduation he will have to find some other means for earning money, probably of the manual labor variety. As justified as anyone might be to call the 24-year-old professional pass catcher an ungreatful idiot, I can’t say the same thing without feeling a degree of sorrow for the guy. I’m not one of the numerous victims of the “Chris Henry Is Better Than You 2008 Tour,” so I can’t speak directly as to just how big of a threat this guy is to society. But he’s being punished by society now, and this is a good thing.
But I am kind of an idiot too, and the fact that during my early twenties I continually got away with similar bouts of idiocy and disrespect for the opportunities presented to me, I can’t help but feel something (sadness, regret, disappointment) for him. I understand that there are victims more deserving of attention and understanding than Henry himself, and I realize that this guy has been told numerous times that he was on thin ice. But that’s not how angry young people learn things — they learn from having their privileges taken away from them.
The way people curse young athletes — professional or college — for acting like every other college boy and young dumbass in this country is alarming to me. There certainly needs to be a collective disappointment by society and the appropriate punishment for those of us who disrupt traffic by throwing up out the windows of moving vehicles. But to hear the same people who cheered for the lanky wide receiver when he caught touchdowns to take pleasure from his demise is kind of uncool. It’s against human nature to take pleasure in another’s misfortune, even if it was brought upon himself — ask any religious or spiritual leader.
The early twenties is a time of rampant abuse of substances for most of us, and anyone who forgets all the stupid things they did during college is either way out of touch or quite hypocritical. Chris Henry probably should have realized the price of acting like a frat boy after the first couple times he was busted for it, but he never chose to leave that environment. I’m not going to list the stupid things I did from age 19-24. I actually made the list, but I can’t publish it — it’s too embarrassing. But today I am a functioning member of society, thanks to the forgiveness of my parents, second and third chances by the state of Ohio and the University of Cincinnati, and the hard work I put in as a suddenly-mature 25-year-old.
It’s well-documented but not well-reported that prodigal athletes are treated differently than other people their entire lives. Chris Henry has probably been a standout athlete since grade school, and judging from his grammar, few people took much time to teach that kid more than “slant route” and “end zone.” Henry is kind of a dumbass. He’s also kind of an asshole. Reports of him throwing bills on the ground and telling a valet to “pick it up, bitch,” are not easy to defend. I’d totally fight Chris Henry over something like that, and he would get in considerable trouble while I wouldn’t get anything, except for the ass whoopin.
People close to the most-recent situation in Clifton Heights have said that Cincinnati’s favorite poor black person designation, “nigger,” was part of the equation. It didn’t start the incident and it doesn’t justify Henry’s actions, but it does represent an extremely difficult situation for a young person walk away from. Especially after six beers.
The fact is that Chris Henry is 24, and 24-year-olds are kind of dumb. Henry’s teammates say they’re disappointed, but they also say they’re sad for the kid. Henry told Rudi Johnson he was trying to clean his life up, trying to be an adult. Whether his problem is alcoholism, immaturity or general stupid-ism, it’s sad that a person with such resources to gain couldn’t utilize his gifts and change his life.
But this isn’t a millionaire CEO ruining his life for a few extra beach homes or a Senator cheating on his wife and lying to his family. It’s not an athlete roughing up his girlfriend or talking shit about his employer during national interviews. It’s a jackass kid acting like a jackass kid like thousands of jackass kids from Clifton to Colerain. Chris Henry is an out-of-place poor kid who couldn’t handle the responsibility of the spotlight.
Now’s he’s broke and out of work, and I find that more saddening that gratifying. I hope some day he takes himself seriously enough to change his lifestyle, and I hope someone teaches him how to be an adult and provide for his family. It would be really hard for anyone to live with himself after such an epic failure.
Odell Thurman couldn’t handle his second chance at the NFL, and it’s unlikely that Chris Henry can either. But I’m going to spend more time hoping he does than taking pleasure in the fact that he probably won’t.
— Danny Cross
Image: Jeff Beyer (left) and Danny Cross about to do something stupid after a vodka cranberry in 2003