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NFL's Chris Henry dies at 26

Thursday, December 17, 2009 - 4:31pm

CHARLOTTE - Redemption stories are the best kind. If someone's failed, lost their way or made more mistakes than we deem acceptable, I always find myself on that guy's side.

I'm not supporting what they've done or making excuses for them, but hoping that they'll find a way to be better. Hoping that they'll learn from their mistakes and become the person they can be. In one way or another, I think we're all striving for that.

That's what Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Chris Henry was supposedly doing when he lost his life this morning near Charlotte after falling out of the back of a moving pickup truck during a dispute with his fiancee.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg police are still piecing together what happened in the accident, and while it is deeply saddening, the news that Henry's life met a violent and premature end is not a total surprise.

He had a series of run-ins in college at West Virginia and was considered a major character risk by the NFL. He had been arrested multiple times while with the Bengals and suspended five times — including for half of the 2007 season. The Bengals tired of Henry's antics and released him after that suspension, but gave him another chance in 2008.

Despite his checkered past, he and his teammates believed his future was bright. In the preseason, quarterback Carson Palmer(notes) raved about Henry's work ethic and his ability. According to Palmer, Henry had a great offseason and had "really turned his life around." Unfortunately, his season was cut short by injury when he broke his forearm against the Baltimore Ravens on November 8.

He was 26 when he lost his life this morning. Just 26 years old. For as many headlines as he had made, it seemed like he should be older. The fact was, though, that he was still a very young man. He was just entering his football prime, and considering his natural gifts and the signs he had been showing before being put on injured reserve this year, he could have gone on to have a great career.

That's the tragedy here. If things had continued to go the way he and his teammates said they were headed, Chris Henry could have one day stood in front of the world as an example that no matter what you've done in the past, your future can be better. He could have told the at-risk youth of the world, "Yes, it can be difficult to change the direction of your life, but it can be done, and you have the power to do it. I did it, and you can do it."

What a great thing that could've been. Sooner or later, we're all going to let somebody down. But life is about how you learn from your mistakes and how you use the experience to make yourself a better, stronger person.

Chris Henry believed he was becoming that guy. And we could have used that.

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