December 17, 2009

On Disappointment: The Two Tigers

For a while, Chris Henry was one of my favourite NFL wide receivers. I’m not really sure why. He played on the Cincinnati Bengals which doesn’t really arouse anything in me, and he wasn’t even the best (or second best) on the team. He was fast and athletic: all the things you probably should be if on career day, the guidance counsellor says you should be an NFL football player. Chris Henry looked weird (my girlfriend recently called him “alien-like”), which was actually bonus, and I was pretty sure that by liking him, I would be alone, fulfilling the need that some of us have to like things that others don’t in order to seem indie or unique or ironic (other examples: Steely Dan, Raspberry ginger ale, not having a cell phone).

If you’re not up to speed on this, here are the basics (or reported basics as this story is less than a day old) regarding the recent death of NFL wide receiver Chris Henry. From
“Police said a dispute began at a home … and Henry jumped into the bed of the pickup truck as his fiancée was driving away from the residence. Police said at some point when she was driving, Henry came out of the back of the vehicle."

There will be some speculation about what happened before Chris Henry fell out of the pickup truck (although much less than that surrounding the Tiger Woods vehicular-domestic dispute) and sadly, in a week, Chris Henry’s death will likely be forgotten or chalked up as inevitable given his history. Unlike Tiger Woods, Chris Henry had a pretty public spotty past: the almost cliché case of someone with all the talent in the world constantly disappointing those who took a chance on him. Since this is not setting out to be a tribute or obituary, I won’t shy away from some of those dirty bits. Since 2004, Henry had been charged or accused with the following: DUI, supplying underage girls with alcohol (though come on, they were 20), drug possession, gun possession, and assault (not against women), not to mention some pretty ridiculous on-the-field conduct where coaches referred to him as an embarrassment to the game. Note this is a game where Plaxico Burress goes to jail for shooting himself yet Ray Lewis stabs a woman, and wins a Super Bowl MVP the following year. Chris Henry’s crimes were largely the stuff of college movies and 1970s porn scenarios.

But this year, Chris Henry was moving on/growing up. The Bengals gave him a second (or tenth) chance, and at only 26, he was finally getting on with it. Sometimes it takes the first 26 years to sort your shit out (or if you’re Italian, 42). Chris Henry benefited from being not quite famous enough, which allowed him these under the radar chances, unlike say, Tiger Woods, who will, with little professional consequence, be just fine, despite the next few years of being asked about his “transgression.”

The next few days of Chris Henry stories will all be the same. They will mention his checkered past, his attempt at redemption, and perhaps the astute attempts will recognize that he was just a kid. Unlike Tiger Woods, nothing much was expected from Chris Henry. Within 20 minutes of the news that Chris Henry died from his injuries, the news that Elin wanted to divorce Tiger Woods had already taken over the top story. Between you and me reader, I don’t give a sweet fuck. Elin will still be rich and hot; Tiger Woods will still be rich and have his pick of cocktail waitresses or celebrities who have recently broken up with A-Rod or Tony Romo. Their kids will be fucked, but there is a chance that is going to happen regardless when your Dad is the athlete of the century.

But back to Chris Henry: as Jerry Reed (another thing to like if you want to seem unique) said, “He who don’t expect much, ain’t gonna be disappointed.” So 650 words to get to my point: despite his rather cliché athlete existence, despite my constant vigilance to try (and fail) to not care about celebrity lives, and despite those low expectations, Chris Henry’s death disappoints me, not simply because he was young, but because he wasn't getting any younger.

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