December 17, 2009: Chris Henry passes away
I will never forget where I was when I first heard the news about former Bengals WR Chris Henry.
I was in the 700 WLW newsroom preparing for the Roundtable Show. I was hosting the show with Dave Lapham and Bob Trumpy that season. We were in-studio that night. The news broke around 5pm. The initial report was dire.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg police said the 26-year-old died less than 18 hours after he fell off the back of a pickup truck on a curvy residential street about eight miles northwest of downtown Charlotte. Henry was away from the team at the time, after suffering a season-ending broken forearm in a game.
"We knew him in a different way than his public persona," Bengals owner Mike Brown said. "He had worked through the troubles in his life and had finally seemingly reached the point where everything was going to blossom. And he was going to have the future we all wanted for him. It's painful to us. We feel it in our hearts, and we will miss him."
Chris was a 3rd round pick of the Bengals in 2005 out of West Virginia. He spent five seasons with the Bengals, totaling 119 catches for 1,826 yards (15.3 yards per catch) and an amazing 21 touchdowns.
Henry was exactly the speedy, deep threat the Bengals needed in his rookie season. But in the final month of the season he was arrested for marijuana possession. It was the first of five arrests for Henry.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell suspended Henry for half the 2007 season. Brown gave Henry a second chance, re-signing him before the 2008 season.
I will always feel such sadness for the fact that Chris lost his life just as he was turning his life around. I'll never forget Chris and his 25-year-old fiancée, Leini Tonga, spending an hour in-studio with me on my ESPN 1530 show a couple of months prior to his death. Chris had reached out to me and asked to come on the show. He was so different than his public persona. He was shy and quiet. That day he was so open, honest and reflective. He freely discussed the troubles of his past and the lessons learned. He told me about the "friends" he'd had to cut loose because of the trouble they brought to his life. He was excited about working on wedding plans and his future with Loleini. They held hands during the interview. I remember how impressive it was that he asked me if he could take phone calls from listeners that day. He wanted to answer all their questions about his past and to take responsibility for his troubles.
As sad as the his story is, Chris changed lives in death. His mother made the decision to donate his organs following the tragic accident. "I lost my son, but I found four new families," she said.
That is the legacy that Chris left behind.
Click HERE for more information on organ donation.