With Irish Rugby player Chris Henry in the news due to a blocked blood vessel in his brain, the names evokes memories of his namesake in the NFL, whose life so tragically came to an end.
Dublin, Ireland, November 8th, 2014. – Ulster rugby player Chris Henry pulls out of the Irish squad to play South Africa complaining of severe headaches. Tests show the flanker has suffered from a blocked blood vessel in his brain and will see a specialist to determine how best to deal with his injury. He is expected to miss up to three months of the rugby season.
Charlotte, North Carolina, December 16th, 2009. – Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Chris Henry falls out of the back of a moving pickup truck during a domestic dispute with his fiancee. Henry dies in hospital one day later, aged 26.
While the news of Irish rugby player Chris Henry’s injury continues to filter out, the mention of the word ‘brain’ juxtaposed with ‘rugby’, or contact sports for that matter, can scare even the bravest of stars.
Henry’s province, Ulster, know all too well about the dangers of players constantly receiving blows to the head, with teammate Luke Marshall previously enduring three concussions in the space of a year and leaving his long term future in the game hanging by a thread.
To combat the problem of concussion and player welfare in sport, Ulster Rugby have teamed up with the IRFU to run a number of player welfare seminars.
Although Henry’s injury is not directly related to blows to the head, and he is expected to make a full recovery, the utterance of his name in the same breath as brain injury evokes memories of the tragic story of his NFL namesake, whose passing five years ago was remembered last Sunday.
Chris Henry was born in Louisiana in May, 1983. From a young age, Henry excelled athletically. He would eventually enroll at West Virginia University, where accolades were as regular as his TDs. After three successful years in college, Henry was drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals in the 2005 NFL Draft.
This move cast Henry into the limelight, and although his performances were impressive, leading the Bengals to their first playoff game in fifteen years, it was Henry’s behavior off the field that led to his notoriety.
December 15, 2005, was a big moment in Chris Henry’s career. Not because he was caught with marijuana, no. It was on this date that Henry’s downward spiral began, a period that would see the promising young footballer arrested a number of times for a string of offences ranging from gun charges, drug abuse and aggravated assault.
A month after his initial arrest, Henry was once more in custody, and pleaded guilty to possession of a concealed firearm and aggravated assault with a firearm. It was reported that he was wearing his Bengals jersey at the time.
Allegations of sexual assault followed in April 2006, at a time when Henry allowed three underage females to drink alcohol in his hotel room. The youngest girl was 15, Henry was 23, but she was not the female to allege sexual assault. Drink driving, substance abuse, and another assault case followed for Henry.
Despite his transgressions, Henry seemed to have turned a corner after his house arrest for punching an eighteen-year-old ended in 2008. He kept his head down, began to work on his game and attempted to change his public persona. The rejuvenated Chris Henry slowly but surely endeared himself to the Bengals franchise, and was rewarded with a return in the 2008 NFL season, finishing the season with 19 receptions and two touchdowns.
An injury in 2009 for a broken forearm meant Henry was out of action for a period. It was during this off-period that Henry’s time on this earth would sadly come to an end.
A dispute with his fiancee in December of the same year saw Henry fall out of the back of a moving pickup truck. He died twenty-four hours later. The NFL world were in shock. Chad Ochocinco, a close friend and teammate of Henry’s, made the following tribute.
Henry’s agent said the following in the aftermath of his death:
“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.”
Mike Brown, owner of the Bengals, spoke of the love the franchise had for the misunderstood footballer from Louisiana.
“We knew him in a different way than his public persona. He had worked through the troubles in his life and had finally seemingly reached the point where everything was going to blossom.”
A year after Henry’s untimely passing, more controversy came to light. Scientists at the Brain Injury Research Institute found that Henry was living with brain damage. It appears that years of being hit on the football field had affected his life. He was living with an undiagnosed form of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).
CTE has become a major talking point in contact sports of late. A PBS Frontline report has suggested that there was evidence of a degenerative brain disease in 76 of the 79 former NFL players examined by the Department of Veterans Affairs’ brain repository.
Last Sunday, the Bengals travelled to Henry’s hometown to face the New Orleans Saints. Five years on from his death, Henry was still very much in the thoughts of those involved in Sunday’s game. The Bengals invited his mother to attend, but she declined.
Cincinnati ran out 27-10 winners and dedicated the victory to the man whose career was cut short by tragic circumstances.
Brain injury in sport is a serious issue and one that needs to be dealt with not only in NFL, but also in rugby and other contact sports.
The story of Chris Henry is one of talent and turmoil, regret and redemption. and sadly, triumph and tragedy.