May 4, 2015.
I was stepping into the press box at Fox Cities Stadium to cover a Wisconsin Timber Rattlers game for a website that I worked for at the time. That’s when my phone rang.
“Hey, this is Mitchell,” said the voice on the other line.
It completely slipped my mind that I had a phone interview set up for 6 p.m. with the Green Bay Packers’ newest player, an undrafted tight end from Western Kentucky University.
I was underprepared, but luckily had a grip on the questions I was going to ask.
Just two days after the 2015 NFL Draft concluded, Mitchell Henry’s life had changed drastically. His first full day in Wisconsin was coming to a close and he was a professional football player.
Henry signed a rookie contract with the Packers, which included June’s offseason training activities (OTAs) and July’s training camp, both dreams for any up-and-coming football player.
The drastic changes were just beginning.
During our ten-minute phone interview, Henry expressed how grateful he was for the opportunity to play the game he loved at the highest possible level, how hard he would work to not let down those who gave him a chance, and thanked me multiple times for doing a story on him.
“I loved everything about the community and I really needed a signing spot where I could compete for a job,” Henry said that day of Green Bay. It showed how serious he was taking what could be his last shot to play his favorite game.
As our joking and conversation ended, Mitchell Henry’s journey was just beginning.
He played in four preseason games with the Packers in 2015, showing off the blocking he was known for at WKU. He impressed, but was one of Green Bay’s final cuts on September 5, 2015.
Henry knew from the NFL Draft that other teams liked him as much as the Packers did. The Denver Broncos gave him the same offer as the Packers, but Henry felt he had a better shot with the Packers.
The day following his release from Green Bay, Henry was offered a contract with the Denver Broncos which he accepted.
Mitchell was now appearing in regular season games for the eventual Super Bowl champions, throwing blocks for legendary quarterback Peyton Manning during his final season.
Henry was released mid-October from the Broncos and in the same week got a call from Green Bay offering him a spot on the practice squad; where he remained until last September. During this tenure Henry suffered two injuries, which allowed him to reach an injury settlement with the club.
This past November, Henry signed with the Baltimore Ravens to be released only three days later. At that point, he decided to return home to Kentucky.
After only a few days home, he decided to have a pain in his shoulder checked out.
Following countless MRI’s and other tests, it was determined that Mitchell Henry had a form of acute myeloid leukemia (AML).
December 5, 2016.
He publicly announced his diagnosis in early December.
I rarely follow not-so-well known professional athletes on social media. Henry was one I always followed and kept an eye on. Something I have never done is text an athlete outside of interviews or media-related business.
After I found out Henry was diagnosed, I sent him a text, reminding him of who I was and told him I was thinking of him.
Showing just a portion of how genuine he was, he said he remembered me. He told me I was the first interview he did after he signed with the Packers and thanked me for my support.
Henry was going through hell, receiving texts from Peyton Manning and hundreds of other former teammates, and had so many unanswered questions. Yet he took the time to personally thank everybody that reached out to him during his battle. That showed just the kind of man he was.
The day after Henry’s announcement, I was curious as to what exactly AML was and compelled to research. Shortly into my research, I found that it was the exact form of cancer that legendary NBA sideline reporter Craig Sager had. It was only nine days later that Sager passed away after a long battle with AML.
Acute myeloid leukemia is a rare form of cancer caused from rapid growth of abnormal white blood cells. These cells build up in the bone marrow, interfering with everyday functions. AML accounts for just over 1% of all cancer deaths in the United States.
June 30, 2017.
It was early in the afternoon when I got an update on my phone that a former Packers tight end had passed away at age 24 after a battle with cancer.
It was that update that served as a message. Life is sometimes too short. Things happen so unexpectedly.
I wrote an editorial last year following the death of Arnold Palmer and Jose Fernandez titled, “Sports Remind Us That Life Is Fragile.”
This is one of those reminders.
Mitchell Henry’s unfortunate passing reminds us to hug your loved ones a little bit tighter this week, as a humble, kind soul will never get to and we, the fans, will never get to watch him play the sport he loved one final time.