Jones: Henry innocent until proven guilty

Monday, November 5, 2007

It took a while for Chris Henry to get on the field, but the rookie running back has been everything that the Titans anticipated when they surprised most observers of the NFL draft by taking him as the 50th overall pick in the second round.


Henry was inactive for the first five games of the season but has made the most of his opportunities since, having rushed for 105 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries in two games.

Not bad for a guy whose biggest claim to fame at Arizona was that he had 35 rushing attempts against Washington State in 2006, which set a school single-game record.

Henry was a surprise, declaring for the draft after his junior year despite starting only four games last season for the Wildcats. In his college career, Henry averaged just over 28 yards per game and only started six times.

At the NFL combine, he impressed scouts when he ran impressive 4.4 and 4.41 times in the 40-yard dash and followed that up with 26 reps at 225 pounds on the bench press and a 36-inch vertical leap.

He is an impressive physical specimen among many in the Titans' locker room despite standing only 6-feet tall.

Henry has impressed with his tremendous work ethic and, by all accounts, has been the consummate teammate. He has been lauded for his commitment to giving back to the Nashville community, giving unselfishly of his time and resources for many worthy causes.

Now he has been notified by the league that he faces a possible four-game suspension for allegedly testing positive for a banned substance. He has five days to appeal the pending action.

Any appeal would delay the suspension until tests are verified by the league.

The substance is not considered performance-enhancing. Henry, 22, apparently took a prescription medication by his personal physician that contained a component included on the NFL's list of banned substances, a component that was not on the banned list a year ago.

The timing of the suspension isn't good for the Titans. Backup running back Chris Brown has been battling an ankle injury that kept him out of Sunday's game against the Panthers.

Starting running back LenDale White has a minor toe injury that has cost him practice time.

The rookie has been getting more playing time because of Brown's injury. Brown has been notoriously slow to heal in the past.

When asked after Sunday's game about the issue, Henry stood up and met the issue head on.

"I was just notified on Saturday that there was a potential problem," Henry said. "I took some medication for a medical problem and was not aware that it contained anything in it that was against the rules.

"Until I can sit down with the league and find out exactly what the issue is I really can't say a whole lot. My degree is not in medicine so I am not sure I understand it all yet myself.

"I don't mind talking to ya'll about it, but I just don't know enough to really give you as much insight as you are looking for."

Time will tell on this issue but at first glance the drug component does not appear to violate the NFL Policy on Anabolic Steroids and Related Substances.

Page one of the policy states: "The League's concern with the use of Prohibited Substances is based on three primary factors. First, these substances threaten the fairness and integrity of the athletic competition on the playing field.

"Second, the League is concerned with the adverse health effects of steroid use.

Third, the use of Prohibited Substances by NFL players sends the wrong message to young people who may be tempted to use them."

The ingredient in the prescription is not considered by any medical personnel to be performance enhancing and was not written to help the young man alter his ability to play football in any way. This situation does not appear to violate any of the three primary factors for having the policy in the first place.

If its not performance enhancing or illegal, why is it banned? The NFL needs to take a long, hard look at this one and not just because Henry is well on his way to becoming a very good back in this league, maybe even a feature back in the near future.

This does appear to be a case where common sense needs to be applied and heaven knows there is little enough of that commodity used these days. This is the same league, after all, that suspended Cowboys quarterback coach Wade Wilson five games for taking medications to enhance the quality of his life after a 20-year battle with diabetes was debilitating his overall health to the point of being unbearable.

It would be a shame if Henry's career suffered irreparable damage this season and was set back significantly for next season if he is indeed an innocent patient trusting his doctors to prescribe adequately for his illness much as we all do on a daily basis.

In talking with Henry in the locker room on Sunday, he was genuinely concerned and seemed embarrassed by the attention that his situation was deflecting away from his teammates and their winning season. I had a sense that he would take it all back if he could and not because he got caught, but because he would want to do the right thing for the greater good of the team and for the league that he represents.

We will all know more in the coming days and there may be more to the story than we know about.

Chris Henry's reputation and integrity are at stake.

I may be way off base, but wouldn't it be nice if we all presumed the young man was innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt?

I am willing to do so. I hope that the NFL does, too.

Jimmy Jones is a Times-Gazette sports writer.