Chris Henry could’ve been one of the best wide receivers in Cincinnati Bengals franchise history.
When Henry broke into the professional football ranks in 2005, he strengthened a Bengals wide receiving corps that included Chad Johnson and T. J. Houshmandzadeh.
Henry showed flashes of his potential. He had a combined 15 receiving touchdowns in his first two seasons in the National Football League.
He could have represented the Bengals in the Pro Bowl for years on end.
Alas, Henry had multiple run-ins with the law during his five-year tenure in Cincinnati. The NFL also suspended him several times for violating its substance abuse and personal conduct policies.
Worse, the Bengals released him after his fifth arrest in the spring of 2008. Fortunately, they re-signed him several months later.
Just when Chris Henry was ready to turn his life around, it ended tragically in December 2009.
The athletic wide receiver known as “Slim” will remain in the hearts of Who Dey Nation forever.
Christopher Demone “Chris” Henry, Sr. was born to parents David and Carolyn in Belle Chasse, LA on May 17, 1983. He has two brothers.
According to the FlemLo Raps YouTube channel, Henry’s grandmother used a sewing machine and made a football cushion for him when he was a baby.
It was an early indication Chris Henry, who his friends called “Slim,” was going to become a special football player.
Henry’s best friend and high school teammate Shane Shelley told FOX Sports in December 2009 that they grew up in a “mixed neighborhood.”
When Shelley was five years old, he was already a frequent visitor to Chris’s house. While the latter’s mother was usually out working, his grandmother cooked them grits, sausage, eggs, and other Southern delicacies for breakfast.
Chris’s grandmother once bought him a pair of Tracy McGrady sneakers worth $125. Shelley remembered he was the only white person at her funeral when he and Chris were in middle school.
High School Days
Chris Henry attended Belle Chasse High School in his hometown.
By the time Henry reached high school, he had grown to 6’4″ and wanted to follow in McGrady’s steps on the basketball court. He was also a standout on the track during his high school days.
On the other hand, Shane Shelley intervened during a critical juncture in Chris Henry’s life. Shelley, the Belle Chasse Fighting Cardinals’ starting quarterback, pleaded with Henry to strut his wares on the high school gridiron.
Henry had watched Shelley play football while they were growing up together in Louisiana. Shane knew Chris had the potential to excel on the football field. Before long, Chris Henry gave in to Shelley’s pleas and the rest was history.
The Shelley–Henry quarterback–wide receiver duo became arguably the best in Belle Chasse Fighting Cardinals football history.
“Me and Chris were always on the same page,” Shelley told FOX Sports in 2009. “I always knew where he would be. I guess that’s from growing up together. We were like brothers.”
Henry caught an unbelievable pass from Shelley on a fade route during the state playoffs in 1999. The incredible feat prompted Belle Chasse head football coach Bob Becnel to tell one of his assistants on the sidelines that Henry would be the future of their squad.
Henry never backed down from competition. His high school wide receivers coach Steve Bird told the Times West Virginian‘s Bob Hertzel in 2009 that several opponents talked trash in his face during one game.
Henry remained undaunted. He told Shelley he was going to win the game for the Fighting Cardinals.
Chris Henry made good on his promise and had the last laugh against his detractors.
One game stood out for Shelley in the middle of their senior season against the L.B. Landry Buccaneers.
A Competitive Soul
Chris Henry played on both sides of the ball for the Fighting Cardinals. Shane remembers that Chris scored on two pick-sixes. Henry also caught a 55-yard screen pass from Shelley in Belle Chasse’s 39-14 rout of L. B. Landry High School.
Henry never discussed his biological father David with Shelley during their formative years in Louisiana. For some reason, his dad showed up on the night Chris scored three touchdowns and handed him $300 in cash, per FOX Sports.
Instead of rejoicing in seeing his father again after a long time, Henry felt irked by his gesture. Shelley wasn’t so sure what his friend did with the money. He’s guessing he bought a pair of Air Jordan shoes.
For his part, Belle Chasse head football coach Bob Becnel told FOX Sports he remembered Chris Henry as a good person who had his share of character flaws in high school.
Henry had asthma when he was in high school. Becnel told Hertzel in 2004 that he thought Henry “was in serious trouble” during one junior varsity game because of his health issue.
Chris Henry's mother is in attendance for today's Bengals rally 🧡🖤 Even after her son passed away, she says she continues to love and support the team. pic.twitter.com/OlurEGc4kW
— FOX19 NOW (@FOX19) February 16, 2022
Henry racked up 1,083 receiving yards and an incredible 24 touchdowns as a senior in 2001. He also had 73 tackles, six interceptions, and four pick-sixes as safety for Belle Chasse High School that year.
Behind the Henry–Shelley duo, the Fighting Cardinals went on a 13-game winning streak during their senior year. Their season-long brilliance culminated in an appearance in the Louisiana AAA State title game in 2001.
Chris Henry earned District and Metro New Orleans Small Schools Offensive Player of the Year honors in his last year of high school. The Times-Picayune also declared him its 2001 Metro Offensive MVP.
Henry became an integral part of West Virginia Mountaineers football in the next phase of his gridiron journey.
College Days with the West Virginia Mountaineers
Chris Henry attended West Virginia University from 2002 to 2004. He majored in athletic coaching education and suited up for West Virginia Mountaineers’ head football coach Rich Rodriguez.
Even during Henry’s college days, he was always determined to make it to the National Football League someday.
Henry’s West Virginia teammate Jason Colson recalled the former sporting a tattoo of the NFL logo on his right hand during their college days, per Becnel.
Colson had no doubts Henry would make it to football’s highest level one day. In fact, he marveled at Henry’s otherworldly talent on the gridiron.
“He had natural talent,” Colson told the Times West Virginian in 2009. “He was the best wide receiver I’ve ever seen play the game. He didn’t need to practice, really.”
Colson told Becnel that Henry’s favorite play was “Wacko Loco.” He would take on a shorter defensive back straight down the gridiron on a one-on-one basis.
Henry also forged a tight and lifelong friendship with defensive back Adam “Pacman” Jones at West Virginia. The two men had the same three-year tenure (2002 to 2004) with the Mountaineers.
Jones also made a profound impact on Henry’s two sons almost two decades later.
According to Becnel, Rodriguez shielded Henry from the media. At the time, only his teammates knew him intimately.
After redshirting his true freshman campaign in 2002, Henry burst out of the gates and became one of quarterback Rasheed Marshall’s most reliable weapons.
Henry had 1,006 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns on 41 receptions in the 2003 NCAA season. He became just the second player in West Virginia school history to rack up at least 1,000 receiving yards in a single season after David Saunders seven years earlier.
Onward and Upward
Henry exploded for a school-record 209 receiving yards and two touchdowns against the Syracuse Orange in a 34-23 road win on November 22, 2003.
The Mountaineers had an 8-5 record in Rodriguez’s third year at the helm. Unfortunately, 20th-ranked West Virginia lost to the 23rd-ranked Maryland Terrapins in blowout fashion in the 2003 Gator Bowl, 41-7.
Although Henry was a good teammate, for the most part, he also showed another side to his personality. He once made an obscene gesture at Rutgers Scarlet Knights fans after officials ejected him from the game, per the Times West Virginian.
Henry became a frequent target of penalties for his excessive celebrations after making game-changing plays.
Despite Henry’s character flaws on the football field, he continued playing at a high level during his sophomore campaign in 2004.
Henry had 872 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns on 52 receptions that year. The Mountaineers won eight games in 2004, returned to the Gator Bowl, but lost to the 17th-ranked Florida State Seminoles, 30-18.
That turned out to be Chris Henry’s final game in the blue and gold of the West Virginia Mountaineers.
He decided to forgo his final two years of eligibility and declare for the 2005 NFL Draft.
Henry did so in an unusual fashion. He removed his helmet after the loss to the Seminoles, approached his mom in the stands, and told the media, without his coaches’ knowledge, that he would turn professional in a few months’ time.
Chris Henry concluded his college football career with 1,878 receiving yards and 22 touchdowns on 93 receptions.
While Henry achieved his goal of playing in the National Football League, he went through a turbulent five-year pro football career that ended in unspeakable tragedy.
Pro Football Career
The Cincinnati Bengals made Chris Henry the 83rd overall selection of the 2005 NFL Draft.
Henry joined forces with Chad Johnson and T. J. Houshmandzadeh to form a dynamic wide receiver trio for the Bengals.
Henry picked up where left off at West Virginia and got off to a decent start in his pro football career.
Henry had a combined 1,027 receiving yards and 15 touchdowns on 67 receptions in his first two years in the National Football League from 2005 to 2006.
The Bengals averaged nearly ten wins per year during that two-year time frame. They made the postseason in 2005 but lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Wild Card Game, 31-17.
According to the Times-Picayune’s Terrance Harris, Henry and his mother Carolyn Glaspy had a special signal called “One Love” whenever he scored a touchdown for the Bengals. After Henry crossed the goal line, he tapped his heart and pointed toward wherever she was sitting in the stadium.
Carolyn Glaspy, from Ohio, is from a donor family. Her son Chris Henry played for the @Bengals when he passed away. Because of organ donation, Chris gave life to four people. Carolyn says they are “like family”. @IntermtnMedCtr @TransplantGames pic.twitter.com/bQ33s0P25b
— Laura Klarman (she/her) MSML, APR (@lauraklarman) August 4, 2018
On the other hand, Henry’s busy football schedule prevented him from spending quality time with his father David. Nonetheless, they managed to catch up over the phone once a month. Chris made sure to call his dad on Father’s Day every year.
Former Belle Chasse Fighting Cardinals quarterback Shane Shelley told FOX Sports that, in 2009, he felt the absence of a father figure took a toll on Chris Henry when he became an adult.
The repercussions apparently manifested themselves in Henry’s various run-ins with the law during his five-year pro football career.
These run-ins included:
- Speeding and marijuana possession in December 2005
- Aggravated assault in January 2006
- Driving under the influence in June 2006
- Assault in November 2007
Police arrested Henry a total of five times during a period that started from his rookie season in 2005 until the spring of 2008.
The league also suspended him twice during his five-year pro football career. The first time around, he received a two-game suspension for violating the NFL’s conduct and substance abuse policies on October 7, 2006. The NFL also fined him $20,000.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell also suspended Henry for eight games in the 2007 NFL season for repeated violations of the league’s personal conduct policy.
The Cincinnati Bengals released Chris Henry following his fifth arrest on an assault charge in March 2008.
However, Bengals team owner Mike Brown gave Henry a second chance and re-signed him several months later.
A Good Guy
Despite Chris Henry’s various off-the-field issues during his pro football career, his family and friends in Louisiana remembered him as a compassionate and caring individual.
“He was just an open guy, very friendly and always had a smile on his face,” Henry’s first cousin, Tony Henry, told Harris in 2014. “Everyone he would see he would give a hug or a handshake.”
Cincinnati Bengals security officer Rusty Guy agreed with Tony Henry’s assessment. Chris was so kind, he never refused someone else’s invitation even if it wasn’t in his best interests.
Hard evidence of Henry’s kindness was letting some of his family members move into his Cincinnati, OH residence after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans in the summer of 2005.
Chris Henry’s cousin Tony never recalled him acting like a delinquent when they grew up together in Louisiana. He remembered Chris as an active church and choir member, per the Times-Picayune.
Some people thought Chris Henry was a hooligan because he grew up without his biological father.
Tony disagreed. He claimed they had a strong family foundation. Chris had five uncles whom he looked up to as father figures during his formative years.
Chris Henry was serious about turning his life around after the Bengals re-signed him in 2008. He had 220 receiving yards and two touchdowns in 12 games with Cincinnati in the 2008 season.
Unfortunately, the Bengals won just four games and dropped out of postseason contention for the 17th time in the past eighteen years.
Henry’s childhood friend Shane Shelley chatted with him after a preseason game against the New Orleans Saints in the summer of 2009.
Henry told Shelley he wanted to be a better individual so he could become the best father for his children, per NOLA.com’s Ryan Chatelain.
While Henry was determined to straighten out his personal life, his career took a turn for the worse after he fractured his forearm in a game against the Baltimore Ravens in November 2009.
Alas, Chris Henry never had a chance to take the field again as tragedy struck just as he was starting to turn his life around.
Post-Football Life and Death
Chris Henry tragically passed away on December 17, 2009, after a fatal vehicular accident in Charlotte, NC the previous day.
Henry’s fiancée Loleina Silka Tonga told ESPN Outside the Lines‘ John Barr on January 5, 2010, Henry jumped out of the bed of a pickup truck she was driving on December 16, 2009. She claimed she wasn’t moving fast when Henry, who was shirtless with a cast on his left arm, jumped.
“I wasn’t going fast,” Tonga told Barr. “Maybe he was scared because he saw someone calling the police.”
Tonga admitted to ESPN she and Henry had had an argument at her parents’ Charlotte residence before the fatal accident.
A neighbor named Lee Hardy claimed he heard Henry tell Tonga if she continued driving, he’d jump off and end his life.
Tonga vehemently denied Henry wanted to kill himself. He loved his children too much and never wanted to be away from them, per ESPN.
Doctors at Charlotte’s Carolinas Medical Center took him off life support on December 17, 2009.
According to Geoff Hobson of the Bengals’ official website, it was so quiet in the team locker room, “You could hear a pin drop,” at that very moment when Henry was taken off life support.
Henry and Tonga have two sons together: Chris Jr. and DeMarcus. Tonga has a daughter named Seini from a previous relationship. On the other hand, Henry has a daughter named Denalya from another relationship.
Prior to Chris Henry’s untimely death, he had changed for the better, no longer defied law enforcement, and planned to marry Tonga, per the Times-Picayune.
Henry’s mother Carolyn Glaspy has been living in Cincinnati, OH since Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans in 2005.
She told the Times-Picayune the Bengals invited her to attend the New Orleans Saints’ home game against the Bengals in November 2014. She politely declined their invitation and watched the game on television instead.
Glaspy wasn’t aware her son had brain damage although she noticed several alarming signs when he was still alive.
“I know the major thing was the headaches, the mood swings, the forgetfulness, or the lack of patience,” Glaspy told Harris in the fall of 2014. “You think you are with this one person and the next time he is a totally different person.”
At first, Glaspy thought it was just her and their family members who noticed her son’s symptoms. She also told Harris that Chris’s laboratory results showed he had possible Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.
According to Harris, family and friends alike had been pondering the likelihood of CTE affecting his behavior when he ran afoul of the law during his five-year NFL career.
It wasn’t until the summer of 2010 that scientists confirmed their worst fears.
The Brain Injury Research Institute (BIRI) concluded Chris Henry had chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) at the time of his death.
Glaspy allowed BIRI to study his brain thoroughly several days after he passed away, per ESPN.
Eight individuals received Chris Henry’s various organs after his death. Glaspy found closure after a male recipient who has Henry’s lungs let her listen to her son’s organs through his breathing.
“That was my closure,” Glaspy told FOX19.com in April 2012. “That’s when I shed tears of joy.”
Chris Henry’s high school football team, the Belle Chasse Fighting Cardinals, retired his No. 1 jersey on September 5, 2014.
Henry’s close friend and college teammate, Adam “Pacman” Jones, legally adopted his two sons Chris, Jr. and DeMarcus in the fall of 2021.
Chris, Jr. is currently a 6’3″ high school wide receiver who closely resembles his father in appearance. Jones has accompanied him on various college visits.
Already, Chris Henry, Jr. has received scholarship offers from the Miami Hurricanes, Ohio State Buckeyes, Penn State Nittany Lions, and his dad’s alma mater, the West Virginia Mountaineers.
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