Death be not proud. Young and vibrant Cincinnati Bengals star Chris Henry had everything to live for. An emerging NFL difference-maker by day and the proud, doting father of three toddling offspring by night, Henry’s role and purpose seemed to be rising in all life’s phases.

If nothing else, history has taught us that fate has a mind of its own. So now, we’re left to wonder — what might have become of a rising athlete who’s now succumb so early in the game? What may have ultimately become of a man who toiled so endlessly to redefine himself?

Indeed, Chris Henry’s struggles were legendary; instances spanned nearly the length of his entire career. Over the last several years, there were arrests and even some jail time for offenses ranging from drinking with underage girls, driving under the influence, and drug possession to aggravated assault with a firearm.

In 2007, a chagrined NFL commissioner Paul Goodell suspended him for eight games after his five legal transgressions in just over two-years. Within a year of that, the equally distressed Bengals finally released him.

“We knew him in a different way than his public persona,” explained shaken Bengals owner Mike Brown, who chose to resign Henry prior to the start of the 2008 season. “He had worked through the troubles in his life and had finally seemingly reached the point where everything was going to blossom, and he was going to have the future we all wanted for him. It’s painful to us. We feel it in our hearts.”

In the ego-driven world of professional sports, it says a lot about a player, about man when all of his teammates seem to genuinely share an affinity for him. Chris Henry, flawed or not, captured the essence of that being.

“I talked to Chris on Tuesday night and he was doing everything right,” star teammate Chad Ochocinco told the Associated Press as he fought to hold back tears. “My grandma always says you never question the man upstairs on decisions he makes, but I don’t see how Chris was supposed to go already.”

And yet, the utterly painful and even harsher reality is Henry’s plight isn’t nearly as atypical as we might think it be. The 6’4”, 200 pound vet is the fourth NFL player to die in a violent episode over the last thirty-six months, tragically joining the likes of Washington’s Sean Taylor, Denver’s Darrent Williams and retired former MVP Steve McNair.

Such a progressive pattern of senselessness seems to have sparked anew the long simmering debate concerning the air of invincibility exuded by far too many athletes. Consider that just two weeks before Henry’s downfall, Minnesota Vikings star Adrian Peterson was ticketed for driving in excess of 100 mph during a highly publicized traffic stop. Mere hours later, teammate Bernard Berrian joined him in that very same lane of dubious distinction.

We need look no further than the tragedies of Taylor, Williams, McNair and now Chris Henry for examples that show this sense of invincibility can carry grave and dire consequences. Indeed, it seems an opponent no amount of fame, adulation or largesse can conquer.

But all day Thursday, none of Henry’s countless friends or acquaintances chose to ponder such issues. Only matters of the heart proved significant.

“Chris was a guy that I believe and our team believes was heavily misunderstood,” said Bengals all-pro quarterback Carson Palmer. “There was a lot of speculation about who he was, but the only guys that knew Chris and knew how good of a heart he had, how kind he was, how gentle he was, how soft of a heart he had, were the guys in our locker room, the guys who were close to him, his family.”

It was an ode to a teammate — flaws and all.