Tom Brady, Drew Henson, and When Sports Get Corrupted

Posted: January 18, 2012 in Sports

A recent Sports Illustrated issue featured an article entitled “Tom Brady As You Forgot Him.”  Author Michael Rosenberg flashed back to Brady’s college days at Michigan, when he was viewed, in Rosenberg’s words, as “an ordinary Big Ten QB — average arm strength, limited mobility.”  This article snagged my interest instantly, because I’ve followed the Michigan Wolverines my whole life and I vividly remember when Brady wore the maize and blue.

What I remember most about when Brady wore the maize and blue was exactly what the article was about — his awkward quarterback battle with prized underclassman Drew Henson.  Henson showed up to Ann Arbor when Brady was a fourth-year junior, and Wolverine-nation knew it was a matter of time before Henson would usurp Brady’s throne.

Brady endured scorn, doubt, and adversity from coaches and fans — to the point in which he considered transferring.  But he persevered and made the most of his remaining two years.  Interestingly, his senior year featured he and Henson sharing playing time.  Brady played the first quarter, Henson the second, and whoever was on more of a roll got the ball for the second half.  I can’t recall any other QB situations that have been this peculiar.

Brady went on to start most of the second halves, showing leadership, grit, and an unfading work ethic, which included hours upon hours of film study.  Brady’s career was capped off with an Orange Bowl victory against Alabama, in which he threw four touchdowns.  Despite his solid play, everyone figured he would vanish from the football landscape as he departed from Ann Arbor.  Perhaps he would mosey NFL sidelines for a couple years as a third stringer, but most believed he would soon find himself in the business world like all the other average Big Ten quarterbacks.

We all know the rest of Tom Brady’s story.  Sometimes I still can’t believe Tom Brady has become an undisputed Hall of Fame quarterback.  In my mind, he too often lingers as the skinny, slow kid who once couldn’t fully earn a starting spot in college.  It remains hard for me to wrap my mind around the fact that he’s a 3-time (could be 4-time in the next few weeks) Super Bowl Champion and a 2-time MVP.

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Many people also know what came of Drew Henson.  He teetered back and forth between football and baseball, but the draw of baseball ended up winning.  Unfortunately, Henson totaled one major league hit in his career.  Then, in a desperate attempt to still “make it” in the professional sports world, he tried to revert back to football.  He had a few stints in the NFL, none of which showed promise, before officially hanging up both pairs of cleats.

The story of Brady and Henson is one that will be told for many years.  Nobody would’ve predicted this.  Brady’s story creates the picture of how some of the great ones sneak up on the sports world like a cat after a mouse.  Henson’s story details the reality of another “bust.”  Despite what scouts or analysts may say, one can never really know the true potential of an athlete.

What most people don’t know about Henson’s story is his dad underneath it all.  The SI article described Henson’s dad hovering around the Michigan practices and in a sense seeking control over Drew’s career.  The article even states, “his [Drew’s] choices were not entirely his.”  It’s evident that Drew’s dad was seeking to live vicariously through his son, and it led to manipulation and a corruption of what sports are about.

This is all too common in the modern world of athletics but not many athletes are aware of it.  However, the degree to which Henson’s dad was involved was obvious.  It was enough that Drew reflects on it with disappointment.  Despite remaining on good terms with his father, he was quoted in the article, “If I’m fortunate enough to be a parent someday, I won’t try to control every situation that my child may be put into as an athlete — not try to dictate every time line or micromanage every aspect of the child’s development” (pg. 79, January 9, 2012 issue).

Those are sincere and deeply revealing feelings.  What Henson’s dad perhaps envisioned as good intentions throughout his son’s career turned out to be overbearing and manipulative.  There’s a drastic difference between enjoying and encouraging a child in sports and controlling and micromanaging them.

The corruption in Henson’s story is not that his career turned out to be a flop.  This happens all the time.  Add his name to the list of hundreds of sports “busts.”  The corruption in Henson’s story is that he didn’t enjoy the game as a gift — something to delight in, something to experience camaraderie, something that was created by God to be enjoyed.  Rather, sports were deified in his life and he is now able to discern it.  Ultimately, it appears he was playing the game for the wrong reasons (Click here for a blog post on “Playing for the Wrong Reasons” by Dr. Tim Gombis, a former professor of mine).

The story of Tom Brady and Drew Henson will be told for many years to come.  Brady’s story inspires, at least from a football standpoint (As far as Brady’s underlying reasons for playing the game, I do not know).  Henson’s story, on other hand, is all-around alarming.  Unfortunately, most will view Henson’s story with alarm because “he didn’t pan out,” but the true tragedy in his story is how sports grew corrupted and a superb athlete like him didn’t fully enjoy one of God’s good gifts.

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