Death is supposed to be the final chapter.
Write the biographies, make the final judgments.
But it isn’t always that way, certainly not with the former West Virginia University wide receiver Chris Henry, who died four years ago Tuesday.
Indeed, if you wrote the biography on that Dec. 17 in 2009, you would have written him off as a troubled young man who had so much to live for and died for so little.
He was 26, seemingly trying to straighten out a life that had been lived in a strange, dark alley.
Today’s Mountaineer fans say that Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey were the best receivers ever to play at the school, but it is difficult to place them on a pedestal any higher than that occupied by the kid who came out of Louisiana that they called “Slim.”
He was tall and lean, with hands as sticky as a frog’s tongue. He was Kentucky Derby fast.
Chris Henry was the kind of kid you could see developing into the best the NFL had to offer, but something was wrong.
It showed at WVU over and over to the point that his early departure for the NFL was seen as nothing beyond a blow to the football program.
He went to the Cincinnati Bengals, played five seasons, caught 119 passes for 1,826 yards and 21 touchdowns but, as I wrote at one point, “he had the world at his feet but kept tripping over it.”
He missed 14 games to suspensions for violating various league policies. He was arrested five times, including once on a concealed weapons charge, marijuana charges and for supplying alcohol to three underage females.
It reached the point that Cincinnati Municipal Court Judge Bernie Bouchard called Henry “a one-man crime wave.”
The shame of it all was you knew somewhere there was a good kid there, that he for whatever reason could not control the direction his life was taking him.
He tried. He had a fiancee and was raising three children, when in a fit of anger during a disagreement he got on the back of a pickup truck as she drove away, fell out the back and hit his head on the ground, causing fatal injuries.
That was where the end normally would go, a sad story, indeed.
But there would be more.
In death, Chris Henry gave life to others and helped his football brethren earn protection from serious brain injuries.
It was his mother, Carolyn Henry Glaspy, who made the decision to donate his organs for transplant, saving four lives by so doing.
She recalled being called to the hospital, arriving and thinking she would find her son suffering from injuries.
“When I put my hand on his chest and felt his heart beat and there was no response, I knew it was no more …”
Shortly later she decided to give the gift of life to others through his lungs, his liver, his pancreas and his kidneys.
On Thanksgiving a couple of years back, the NFL did a touching report on the life-giving decision.
“I couldn’t make plans for the future because I was too busy fighting for today,” said one of the recipients.
“To get a transplant, it was just like God gave me a second chance at life,” said another.
“I think about Chris Henry every day,” said a third.
And they live on, writing their own chapters to this life story.
It extends to the football field, too, where Chris Henry’s mother’s decision to allow his brain to be studied had to have helped bring about changes to the way football is being played while offering a potential explanation for some of Henry’s bizarre behavior.
The doctors did not expect what they found. With no history of head injury in college or the professional league, although his mother would say he had two mild head traumas in high school, neither resulting in missed time or treatment, they didn’t think they would find the brain deterioration they found.
Magnified 200 and 600 times, slices of a normal brain come out a clear blue like the sky with a few brain cells like stars, but Henry’s brain was filled with brown spots that signified Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy.
Today, in part due to the sacrifice of Chris Henry’s life, football is becoming a safer game, one that surely is being watched by four other families who feel a unique and loving connection to someone they never knew but who is very much a part of them.
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.
Death is supposed to be the final chapter.
- Bob Herzel
HERTZEL COLUMN: Big 12 provides plenty of optimism
This past week the Big 12 held its annual media gathering in Dallas and served up a heaping portion of optimism for the 2014 season that is now upon us, West Virginia University opening its preseason practices on Thursday.
This is a time of year when no one has lost a game, not even Charlie Weis at Kansas, and it’s a time of year when opinions are more plentiful than tattoos in an NFL locker room.
HERTZEL COLUMN: WVU needs White to follow in former receivers’ footsteps
A year ago Clint Trickett took a lot of grief as the once potent West Virginia offense came unraveled, but there is more that than meets the eye.
The criticism was not unfounded, of course, although behind each incomplete pass there was the pain Trickett was suffering through to throw it, his rotator cuff in need of surgery.
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The star of the Big 12’s annual football media day wasn’t a star at all.
He intrigued the media far more than Bob Stoops, the coach of preseason favorite Oklahoma, and more than Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty, the preseason player of the year.
WVU, N.C. State to meet in football
Following a trend of creating non-conference games against regional opponents, West Virginia University has reached agreement with North Carolina State to play a home-and-home football series in 2018 and 2019.
The Mountaineers are scheduled to play N.C. State in Raleigh on Sept. 15, 2018, and then play host to the Wolfpack on Sept. 14, 2019.
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When Bob Bowlsby, the outspoken commissioner of the Big 12, presented his opening-day picture of the future of college sports in Dallas for the annual media day gathering, his bleak comments were not unexpected.
Holgorsen’s program hits turning point
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Trickett’s play key factor for Mountaineers’ success
In the end, it comes down to the quarterback.
Always has with Dana Holgorsen, always will.
Quarterback is the offense with the West Virginia University coach. When he does well, the team wins – almost always.
When he does poorly, the team doesn’t stand much of a chance.
Saban, family happy at Alabama
Alabama football coach Nick Saban, whose team opens the season against West Virginia in Atlanta on Aug. 30, denied receiving or turning down this offseason an offer of $100 million to coach Texas, indicating he planned to finish his career as coach of the Crimson Tide.
HERTZEL COLUMN: ‘Quarterback child prodigy’ comes to WVU amidst very high expectations
Has West Virginia football coach Dana Holgorsen finally put the arrow he needs in his quiver with the commitment received Wednesday from high school quarterback David Sills, who is a rather extraordinary story and may also just be a rather extraordinary quarterback?
WVU kicker Molinari ‘All-American boy’
West Virginia kicker Mike Molinari may not be an All-American but he is an All-American boy.
He was honored for that on Wednesday when the Allstate Insurance Company and the American Football Coaches Association announced the West Virginia redshirt senior kicker/punter Michael Molinari is a nominee for the Allstate AFCA Good Works Team.
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