How Marshall Henderson Gets Away With Being Marshall Henderson (Participation)

How Marshall Henderson Gets Away With Being Marshall Henderson

On Sunday night, we said goodbye to Ole Miss guard Marshall Henderson, college basketball’s most exciting troll, a sort of human “u mad bro?” who did everything to antagonize his opponents short of popping motorcycle wheelies at halfcourt with their girlfriends riding pillion. He and the 12th-seeded Rebels lost a heartbreaker to 13th-seeded La Salle, 76-74, and when the buzzer sounded, Henderson stalked off the court with two middle fingers raised.

Later, radio host Danny Parkins asked him for an explanation. Henderson told him, “Someone yelled that my sister is a whore and said something about cocaine.”

The incident occasioned some tsk-tsking here and there, but by that point it’d been well established that Henderson was a temperamental figure—”outspoken,” as CBS put it—and the two middle fingers seemed perfectly in character. The lines had been drawn on Henderson. You either love him or you hate him. We’d already reached the “Marshall being Marshall” stage of raffish sports anti-heroism, improbably.

But then, everything about Marshall Henderson is improbable. He messes with any racially essentialist expectations of what a white basketball player is supposed to be. He’s an incessant shit-talker who tosses up 30-footers, rarely passes, and has a conspicuous lack of “hustle” stats. He tokes an invisible joint after made three-pointers. He drinks a lot, even during the NCAA tournament. He tweets photos of himself blacked out or with groupies, and calls them hoes. He has a rap sheet. He’s a coach’s kid with a known history of clashing with coaches. Marshall Henderson by all rights shouldn’t exist. And if he were a black athlete, he wouldn’t—not as far as big-time basketball is concerned.

Henderson is consciously at odds with the prototype. Every team has a little white guy who can shoot threes,” he told one interviewer (incidentally, his grandfather, Lonnie, is a full-blooded Choctaw). “I’m trying to make a difference.” Nor is he Aaron Craft, a better player on a better Ohio State team who best embodies the white-guy type—unassuming, outwardly humble, fundamentally sound. After his game-winning three against Iowa State on Saturday, Craft joked in his postgame presser that instead of dreaming of big shots as a kid, he fantasized about taking last-second offensive charges. He then left, saying that he had to study for an organic chemistry test. The kid doesn’t have to do any maneuvering. He’s exactly what we expect him to be.

“Craft is perfect. He plays the right position. He plays with the right amount of effort,” CBS Sports’s Gregg Doyel wrote the other day, wondering why Henderson was so seemingly beloved. Then Doyel dropped the mask entirely. “And,” he continued, writing about Craft, “he has the right demographics. Why those demographics elicit such dislike, I can’t say. But earnest Aaron Craft is the one we’re going to hate.”

But basketball is complicated. Craft isn’t perfect. He has a weird, canted little flick of a jump shot, and he can’t really create his own offense. Those are fundamentals, too, and so is Henderson’s ability to tear around screens and jack 11 three-pointers a game in the face of game plans expressly designed to chase him off the perimeter. Craft is no more fundamentally sound than Henderson and no less determined to humiliate his opponents (if you’ve watched him play defense or try to thread a pass between a guy’s legs, you know this to be true); he’s just better at the valorized, “white” aspects of the game.

Doyel’s column, while seemingly harsh, was only making a point about etiquette, and it was ultimately forgiving. “Kid, I’ve been you,” Doyel wrote. It’s hard to think of him offering the same sort of empathy to, say, LSU’s Honey Badger.

In fact, keep Tyrann Mathieu in mind when you read about Henderson’s past. Henderson was a good student and highly rated shooting guard playing in his home state of Texas under his father, Willie. He was courted by schools like Gonzaga, Notre Dame, and Stanford his senior year but ultimately chose Utah. Before graduating in 2009, though, Henderson attempted to purchase $800 of marijuana with counterfeit money, and exchange a further $100 of the fake cash for real currency.

During his tumultuous freshman year, which included a one-game suspension for sucker-punching a BYU player, the Secret Service came knocking.

“They came to Utah and they were like, ‘Blah and blah and we got this and surveillance camera,’ and I threw up,” Henderson told the Clarion-Ledger. “That was my first thing, because I thought I was done for.”

He wasn’t. In 2010, Henderson was charged with misdemeanor forgery in the incident, but he dodged federal court and received a two-year probation. That spring, Henderson also decided to transfer, saying, wonderfully, that coach Jim Boylen’s rules didn’t mesh with his “individualism.”

From there he went to Texas Tech, where he redshirted then transferred again without ever playing a game. He spent his third year destroying junior college basketball at South Plains College in Levelland, Texas, leading the team on a 36-0 national championship run. Finally, he transferred to his third (and likely final) Division I program, Ole Miss. Just last year, he spent 25 days in jail for violating his probation after a drug test found traces of cocaine, pot, and alcohol in his system.

Chances are, you didn’t know much, if any, of this. Until Saturday, when sportswriter Bomani Jones pointed it out on his Twitter account, Marshall Henderson’s Wikipedia page didn’t even mention his run-ins with the law. And Sunday’s broadcast team of Marv Albert, Steve Kerr, and Craig Sager played the usual word games in order to skirt around his rap sheet. They called Henderson “flamboyant,” “fiery,” “emotional,” and “magnetic”; they mentioned his past only once, when Albert said, vaguely, “He was put on probation, and went to jail for a month.” There was no mention of the blow or the pot or the funny money. In print, Henderson might get the occasional slap on the wrist from the likes of Doyel and Seth Davis, who called his showboating “classless” back in January, but Henderson’s personal history sits apart from the story of his play, as it should, and as it rarely does for black players who find themselves on the wrong side of the law. No one’s calling Henderson a thug or a gangster. He’s “paid his dues,” some say. “He had to find the right program,” as Kerr said on Sunday. He’s still young. He’s gotten his shit together. He’s proven that he’s capable of change.

Let’s imagine the counterfactuals: If Henderson were black, the arrest alone likely would have ended his NCAA career. An attempt to pick up 50-plus grams of marijuana using fake currency isn’t exactly a mere youthful transgression. Would a black 18-year-old have gotten off with just probation? Would he have gotten another chance to play Division I ball?

If that hadn’t killed his career, wouldn’t the punch and the subsequent falling out with his head coach have sealed the deal? He’d have been another selfish hothead, a punk, and if somehow he found another D1 program to take him in, his subsequent failed drug test and his month in jail would’ve ensured he’d go down in the ledger as a druggie and criminal, too. Not worth the trouble, they’d say.

We can get a good idea how this would’ve played out from Ole Miss itself. In January 2012, Rebels coach Andy Kennedy dismissed two players from the team—leading scorer Dundrecous Nelson, and a freshman named Jamal Jones, both of them black—following Nelson’s arrest on charges of possessing drug paraphernalia. Nelson and Jones had been caught smoking weed, according to the cops.

“It’s a shame, really,” Kennedy said. “It’s a shame. There’s a process that I don’t feel like is needed to get into, but you get to the point of no return. Obviously the most severe thing you can do is dismiss someone from your program and that’s where we are.”

That same semester, Ole Miss announced that Henderson would be joining the team. “Marshall is an outstanding shooter who will immediately bring some much-needed scoring to our backcourt,” Kennedy said.

Or compare the refreshingly gentle handling of Henderson’s missteps with the coverage of Mathieu.

Mathieu, in case you’ve forgotten, was crowned the top defensive player in college football in 2011, like Henderson an undersized athlete getting by primarily on balls and guile. But Honey Badger was kicked off the Tigers before the 2012 season for a series of failed drug tests that found traces of marijuana in his system. He withdrew from school and went to rehab, before enrolling again at LSU later in the fall, with hopes of playing in the 2013 season. On Oct. 25, he was arrested again for possession.

What followed was a shitstorm whipped up mainly by the media, who turned a commonplace story about recreational pot smoking into a narrative about a troubled black athlete on the verge of entering a very dark wood. Sports Illustrated‘s Thayer Evans and Pete Thamel, in maybe the single dumbest piece of sportswriting last year, went so far as to compare the Honey Badger to his father, Darrin Hayes—a convicted murderer who is serving out a life sentence in prison without the possibility of parole. They wrote:

If the crossroads he has arrived at — between redeeming his football career or squandering it, between old loyalties and new priorities — feels familiar to him, it should: Three decades ago his father came to the same point and washed out in a spiral of drugs and violence.

Mathieu has never done time. He’s never killed anyone. He smoked pot. Synthetic pot. Shitty pot.

Mathieu played along with the narrative. What choice did he have? He cut his trademark blond hair (standard protocol for black athletes with legal issues now), and ESPN pursued and aired a Mathieu mea culpa, in which the 2o-year-old cried and apologized for partaking in a drug already legal in two states and decriminalized in over a dozen more. “I abused myself through marijuana,” he said, through tears.

Mathieu will likely get drafted this year, but his story is already set. In five years, a decade, as long as Mathieu is in the public eye, he’ll be stuck in a state of suspended animation: the former drug user, the criminal on a path to redemption. The broadcasters won’t try to dance around the language. And right now? Not worth the trouble, they’re saying.

Even if he never rolls another blunt and turns into one of the premier defensive backs in football, Honey Badger won’t outrun that story. Henderson, however, is past the counterfeit money, the marijuana, the punch, the cocaine, the month in jail. He flipped us the bird on Sunday, but he’s already past that, too. He’s retained the kind of freedom everyone wants but only some people in public life can ever enjoy: the freedom to move on.

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14 thoughts on “How Marshall Henderson Gets Away With Being Marshall Henderson (Participation)

  1. It’s just amazing to me how easily Henderson can run away from his past like that. Until we talked in class yesterday I literally had no idea about any of his previous encounters with the law, and keep in mind I am a huge sports fan who watches a TON of sports. Even with watching sports every single day throughout the college basketball season and even seeing several broadcasted Ole Miss games, I never once heard any announcer say one bad thing about Marshall Henderson’s past, and if anything he was only glorified for being this “outspoken” leader of the Running Rebels. I think it would make much more sense to call him a mediocre shooter who takes terrible shots and from time to time makes one of those terrible shots and everyone loves him for that. It makes no sense to me how he is looked upon so highly, when in reality he’s not even that great of a ball player. He’s an average shooter with no conscience, but if you listened to some of these announcer’s you’d think he was the next Larry Bird.

    Not only that, but the fact that he was so easily able to escape his past when many other collegiate athletes, most recently and notably the Honey Badger, have one small mishap and their career is essentially ruined. Then we have Henderson over here who spends a month in jail for having illegal substances in his system, which not only violated his parole but he was also proven to have done cocaine, and all of that seems to go away over night. Mathieu on the other hand was only in trouble for marijuana related crime (mainly misdemeanors) and you would think this kid was being tried for murder. The media racially profiles just as badly as any person in this country and this story proves the validity of that point. I’ll tell you one thing right now though, provided he doesn’t mess up again and makes it to play next season, I will not be watching Marshall Henderson at all.

    • Andy,
      I have to agree with you. I am an avid college basketball fan and I’ve heard of Henderson before on SportCenter and CBS during the NCAA Tournament and I never would have guessed he had so many problems. I am less concerned about the media and more concerned about the school and the NCAA for even allowing the kid to be enrolled at a Division 1 school, let alone be a student athlete. He no doubt violated dozens of school, conference, and athletic policies and yet, he was still allowed to play. Someone should sanction the NCAA for that BS call.

      • I agree with the both of you. I don’t understand why a school would look at this person and think of him as a suitable student athlete. Student athletes are the face of the school, so when a school chooses to stand behind a character like this then I would loose so much respect for that school as a whole.

      • Again I agree with all the above but I can answer your question, its all about the money these athletes bring in big dollars in basketball and football more so football which is why guys with sketchy pasts kicked out of other programs can always find a home if they are good enough case in point Cam Newton who stole a laptop got the charges dropped spent a year at JUCO then Aubrun was wating with open arms. Its like Tiger says winning fixes everything

  2. Henderson no doubt gets a pass on all these things, and if he were black his past would be a much bigger deal. I feel like race in sports though is a sensitive topic because in the sports enviornment, stereotypes are so much more prevalent. So that fact that henderson doesn’t fit the white guy stereotype, that in itself was starting to become a big deal before they lost. Even Lebron was tweeting about him.

  3. Its funny how in today’s society, where racism is supposed to be essentially eliminated, the media and authorities can chose who they want to make or break. What it ultimately comes down to is, what makes a better story? A white player that has run ins with the law, or a black athlete that does the same thing? Granted, both players did commit a crime, they deserve to receive the respective consequences for their actions. I just think that its a shame how Henderson has “moved on” from his crimes (which involves cocaine, which is illegal in all 50 states) but Honey Badger is going to live with his marijuana history throughout the rest of his career, possibly even his life, even though marijuana is considered legal in some states, and could quite possibly become legal in all states in the near future.

  4. After reading this article, it is unbelievable to me that Marshall Henderson gets away with being Marshall Henderson, when other professional athletes who have committed crimes far less offensive receive much more attention from the public. I am so glad that this article was written because I think it shines a lot of light on how racism is still very prevalent in sports today. It seems very strange that all of Henderson’s past offenses with the law such as, forgery, using counterfeit money, punching another player and was put in jail for twenty five days after violating probation for testing positive for cocaine and pot. However, none of these run- ins with the law have been given any media attention till now because Henderson is white. Just by looking back in history it is easy to make the case that if Henderson was black he would not be playing basketball in the NCAA. When black athlete have run- ins with the law for marijuana or assault charges their careers look very bleak because of the mass media attention they receive and the long suspension they receive. The article looks at the case of Mathieu the LSU defensive player who was caught smoking pot and how this minor offense, which is legal in two states, will haunt him the rest of his career. However, Henderson is already past his crimes and has moved on to better things simply because he is a white basketball player which I believe makes it easier for America to turn the other way.

  5. This entire story really irritated me. As a college student that fully supports the athletic department here at WSU, I have a pretty good idea of what these peoples’ schedules are like and more importantly what they are like as human beings. Fortunately, the student athletes here at WSU are good people and, for the most part, are fairly humble. When I read the story, I really wasn’t paying attention to the race of the person, I was more focused on how the hell the school AND the NCAA let Marshall Henderson act the way he did and let him continue to play basketball. I am all for second chances and seeing if people change but there didn’t really seem any disciplinary action taken by the NCAA or Ole Miss. It’s infuriating to me that the media is approaching the story in a racial manner. I’m more pissed off at the NCAA and Henderson’s behavior. Unfortunately it has become a racial problem because it seems as if Henderson is receiving special treatment because he is white. I wonder if it would have changed if he was black. In my head I think he should have been shut down a long time ago regardless of his race. I’m disappointed that nothing was done to stop the guy and that now it has to come down to his race. The kind of behavior is unacceptable by anyone, especially a public figure like Marshall Henderson.

  6. The fact that Henderson can have SO many encounters with the law and previous coaches and a known bad attitude yet still land a spot on a Division 1 basketball team is baffling. The NCAA puts out a front of trying to make student athletes drug and trouble free yet there are players such as Henderson who seem to just slip by all the rules. Mathieu smoked a synthetic pot and was compared to a murderer and may have ruined his image simultaneously. Examples such as Henderson prove that racism is still alive in even the biggest industries such as college basketball. If a black player goes to jail for almost a month for doing cocaine and breaking parole the media would blow up about what a hoodrat this individual is and likely they would lose their lifelong ambitions of being a collegiate athlete and maybe moving beyond that.

  7. A person that can have so many negative experiences with the law and even coaches shouldn’t have so much good happen to them as Henderson has. There should be a point where he actually gets consequences for his actions, not a spot on a D1 basketball team. I would think that a coach would want well rounded players, ones that respect the game, players, and especially the coach. He has done so many things without any consequence made to him, pass counterfeit money, marijuana, punching a person, cocaine, and even a month of jail. He even flipped off reporters and it seems that he can just slip away unharmed. It seems that race has a pretty large part in Henderson remaining to play basketball. Black players that commit a small infraction compared to Henderson would have great consequences. Henderson is a very privileged white player. And no matter how wrong that is, he will only continue to get away with things.

  8. I believe that Henderson has gotten away with so much in the last past years. i personally feel that with his past he shouldnt even be allowed a spot on another major D1 basketball program. I understand that people makes mistakes at times but it seems as Henderson doesnt learn from his after he was given the second chance and attended the Univesity of BYU his chance should have been cut short after he threw an punch towards another player. It a lot of controversy that he simply got away with all of this because of his race and him being a white basketball player instead of black. I believe this to an certain point because I do think that was the reason so it kind of went unnoticed. But i think a major thing that played on to it being unnoticed is that these problems seem to happen more with black basketball players that when it happpens to a white basketball player people think he could change.

  9. Handersons attitude and actions areatrocious. The thing I am most upset with culture that these athletes are brought up in they grow up being so sought after by the big D1 schools and told how great they are all the time by recruiters and people trying to get in thier “entourage” so they can ride thier coattails to the league its no wonder so many devolp an overinflated ego. This becomes a real issue when some take it to far and think they are above the rules/laws and it is magnified at the professional level where doping runs rampant and cheating is encouraged by bigger pay checks and faster recovery time. Then every ones attitude is so what have you done for me lately the public judges athletes harshly for a breif moment then its on to the next story in the next 24 hour news cycle. Every one blew up on the honey badger and now hes about to be drafted into the NFL, there was a giant outcry against tiger now that he is “back” we all love him again. Brian Cushing tested posative for a “banned substance” in 2010 no Texan fans were calling for his release in 2011. Maybe the all time example of this is Ray Lewis all of this is just to say that the NCAA’s current system of recruiting and profiting off these kids along with fans that worship them enviroment plays a large role in the decsions they make and why we are so quick to forgive them.

  10. After reading this article I am also surprised at how much Henderson has gotten away with so far. I believe that the comment about if he was black he would have been suspended or kicked off the team, is true. The white players don’t seem to get as much attention for crimes and such as much as black players do. It all related to stereotypes like we have been talking about in class. People seem to carry their past beliefs about racism with them to the present, when they are not so closely looked at anymore. The behavior that Marshall Henderson displayed is not acceptable in any circumstance. Another big part of this is the media. They choose what the public sees and they state their own opinions, influencing others. They can also edit parts of the stories, displaying some of the players’ offenses but not others. Henderson has been in trouble with the law more than what has been published in the media recently. Also, the fact that Henderson seems to be a good player, stated by the coach, should not be the only determine factor to allow him to play. They have to recognize how the team as whole might look when one of their players acts negatively. A player who has used counterfeit money, marijuana, cocaine, punched another player, has done jail time, and recently flipped off the crowd should not be allowed to play. If he continues to play, what’s next? Will other coaches allowing their players to do the same? This is not only a matter of race; it’s also the difference between right and wrong.

  11. I can’t believe that after the conviction of attempting to buy $800 dollars worth of marijuana in counterfeit money, punching an opposing player, and violating his parole that Marshall Henderson was allowed to play basketball, yet alone at a D1 program. I also find it paradoxical that the Ole Miss head coach would dismiss two of his best players for simply smoking marijuana and in the same semester let Marshall Henderson walk onto the team. Henderson is a disgrace to the sportsmanship of the NCAA and after his antics during throughout this last season he should face a long suspension or not be allowed to play at all. In his eyes Marshall Henderson can get away with anything he wants which is not fair and he should be held to the same standards as other athletes in the NCAA. Its also ridiculous that the media hardly mentioned his frequent encounters with the law while simultaneously almost destroying the career of Mathieu a football player who was caught smoking pot a couple times. The NCAA needs to become accountable to holding all players regardless of race to the same standards and not putting up with any of the “individualism” Henderson displays. Also the media needs to stop treating black athletes unfairly and stop spinning stories that could potentially ruin their careers.

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