Tiger Woods and Chris Henry: What Can We Learn from Their Many Failings? Part I

Leroy Watson Jr.Senior Writer IDecember 19, 2009

The death of Chris Henry is a senseless tragedy...but perhaps not for the reason you would first think.

And Tiger Woods, in the parlance of the fictional 1950s star Ricky Ricardo, has some "splainin' to do"...to a shrink?

First of all, allow me to extend my best wishes to the family that has lost a husband-to-be and, most importantly, a father, as Henry leaves behind three children under the age of four: daughter DeNayla, three, and son Chris Jr., two, and DeMarcus, one.

Henry’s demise came as the direct result of his final faulty decision, the last in a painfully long string of them.

If Henry were alive, and a genie gave him the chance to take some (or perhaps all) of them back, I’m sure the troubled receiver would do so.

But this is the real world, not some fictional construct where the good guy always comes out on top and lives happily ever after.

And even if this were some fictional Never Never Land, there’s certainly no guarantee that Chris Henry would have been cast in the role that’s slated for the happy ending.

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So who was Chris Henry? Or, more correctly, what kind of man was he?

Some people look at him and define him by his arrest rap sheet. And hurl the T-word at him: “He’s nothing but a common THUG.”

Yet look at the voluminous articles on Chris Henry, all over the Internet, and what do his friends, family, and former teammates have to say about the man? See for yourself:

“Chris was a guy that I believe and our team believes was heavily misunderstood. There was a lot of speculation about who he was, but the only guys that knew Chris and knew how good of a heart he had, how kind he was, how gentle he was, how soft of a heart he had, were the guys in our locker room, the guys who were close to him, his family.”

—Bengals Quarterback Carson Palmer

“We knew him in a way that (was not consistent) with his public persona. We liked him. He had worked through troubles in his life...to a point where he was going to have the future we all wanted for him and that he wanted for himself. At the time of his tragedy he was running to daylight.”

—Bengals President Mike Brown

“For those who knew Chris, he was nothing like his public perception. A loving and caring individual, he was thankful for what he had in life, and proud of what he had overcome.”

—Chris Henry’s agent, Andy Simms

“I remember recruiting Chris to West Virginia like it was yesterday. He came from a humble background and was a wonderful young man and football player. Chris was like a son to me and I will cherish all the great memories that I have of him."

—Michigan (formerly West Virginia) Offensive Coordinator Calvin Magee

These and many other quotes can be found in a side bar to an article entitled, “Henry, 26, dies day after dispute” on ESPN.com. You may read the entire piece by clicking this link.

So which guy was Chris Henry: the one who was constantly in trouble with the law (drunk driving, illegal possession of firearms, and possession of marijuana, along with a laundry list of other charges), and who suffered multiple team and NFL suspensions dating back to his college career; or the loving and caring man who was admired by those who were closest to him?

I proffer that he was both.

In our rush to classify athletes—whether we feel they should be held as role models or not, we tend to hold them to a different standard and always judge them by their virtues (or lack thereof)—we as a society often fall prey to “all or nothing” thinking.

Either a guy (or gal) is a hero or a bum. Either a winner or a loser. Good or bad.

Why can’t they just be flawed human beings like the rest of us, expected to have hiccups in their personal lives and still be who and what they are?

Just because the “what” part is “world class athlete” doesn’t magically make them angelic, nor should we expect that to be the case.

Witness Tiger Woods, a man who was set up for a fall of epic proportions.

No one could possibly live up to the standards that he was expected to meet, whether it be on or off the golf course.

Now, repeated and/or egregious breeches of the public trust (because that’s what it is, whether an athlete likes/expects it or not) take us to a different place, I agree.

Henry did not just break the law once or twice; even on the day of his death, he was involved in a domestic disturbance.

Tiger Woods did not just cheat on his wife once, nor with only a single person; by the latest “confirmed” count, it was 11 women established, with five more suspects already lining up by the nearest attorney and microphone bank.

Sounds like hundreds of cases of infidelity, if you ask me.

Could it be, however, that the sport superstars who fall the farthest just might be the ones whom we should sympathize with the most?

Hear me out before you throw stones, pronounce me an idiot, or otherwise attempt to shoot the messenger of an important communiqué.

Serial wrongdoing, such as exhibited by Henry and Woods, is almost always an indicator of one of two things: deep mental or emotional disturbance, or abject moral bankruptcy.

Some of the same people who cheered Henry for his breathtaking touchdown forays, or sat awestruck in front of a television screen as Woods engaged in one of his patented Sunday charges, are now suddenly screaming that these men were clear cases of the latter.

I want to tell you that the signs clearly indicate to me that they are victims of the former.

But very few want to look at it that way. The vast majority of the media has whipped fair-weather fans into a frenzy, and Woods’ approval ratings are plummeting like a hot rock.

Henry was dubbed a thug before he ever set foot in the NFL.

The media and the fans decried his repeated chances at making a living, saying he did not deserve to keep getting shots at an NFL roster.

And, even now, the groundswell is forming against a deceased Henry, saying that the young man who had seemingly turned his life around had fooled us all; and the domestic disturbance was a mere scratch on tip of the iceberg, that he was not reformed one bit.

I look at the two men this way:

Eldrick Tont “Tiger” Woods is a man whose duplicitous actions cried out for attention that he claimed he did not want. There is a stark dichotomy between the public persona that he meticulously fabricated, and the acceptance that he so deeply (and obviously, in retrospect) craved.

The internal struggle resulting from the need for solitude and control colliding with his silent ache to be understood and approved of created a chasm that engulfed the fabric of his moral being, swallowing it whole.

Out of that deep, dark abyss, a serial infidel was born. A man who needed therapy more than he needed air to breathe. Blissful ignorance of that fact, and being constantly emboldened by his not being caught, motivated Woods to push the envelope of his depravity until one day he was forced to come to grips with his demons.

Which is what I think he secretly wanted all along, to be forced to deal with his strife.

That day has finally come.

When I consider the life and times of Chris Henry, it is quite plain to me that the young man suffered with a cruel, unrelenting mental (or quite probably emotional) disorder, dissociative in nature, and highly resistant to conformity to societal "norms."

Here, in his police blotter and in the very public airing of his misdeeds, was a cry for professional help as clear as the newsprint on the magazines that breathlessly regaled us with column inch after column inch of recitations of his truancy.

Why no one thought to persuade him to seek professional help is beyond me.

I’m not asking for sympathy for either man, especially not Woods. He is still alive, and very young, so there are myriad opportunities for him to heal his internal battles, seek redemption for his infidelities, and rehabilitate his public image.

Henry is a bit trickier; he is dead and has no more opportunities at redemption.

But we can all keep the families involved—especially the children, who are 100 percent blameless in either morasse—in our thoughts and prayers (if we believe in some deity to whom we can pray).

We can temper the words that we transmit over the Web, realizing that we don’t know all the facts and have no right to judge, anyway.

And maybe, just maybe, what we can learn from all of this is simple: Instead of being so quick to judge, perhaps we should be quicker to try to help.

Whether it be in our homes, neighborhoods, or places of work, we all know someone whom we probably label as evil or incorrigible.

We call them a**holes, bitches, and pricks, or any of a number of other colorful titles.

We ridicule and laugh at them behind their backs, and attempt to persuade others to do the same.

But do we ever bother to wonder why they act the way they do, and what we might be able to do to help them?

It’s too late to help or save Chris Henry, but it’s not too late for anyone reading these words right now to reach out to someone else.

Expect more from Part II in this series, which concentrates a bit more on Woods, but continues discussing the tragedy that has befallen Henry. Click here to read on...