Is Marshall Henderson Misunderstood?

He's more sane than you think.

Not Available Lead
Complex Original

Image via Complex Original

Not Available Lead

You can't judge a book by its cover. Or can you? From his on-court antics to what is perceived as a clear DGAF attitude that he portrays off the court, Marshall Henderson is now being referred to by the media and public as the "Bad Boy of the NCAA." But does that title really define who the 22-year-old actually is? The answer isn't as obvious as you think.

To understand the Marshall Henderson you see today, you need to comprehend his past. When he played for Bell High School in Hurst, TX, Henderson's father served as the team's head coach. While the tutelage proved to be valuable for his game, given the fact that Marshall averaged 25.8 points, 5.0 rebounds, 5.1 assists and 3.8 steals, as well as being named All-County and District MVP in his senior year, Henderson was also battling issues outside the game of basketball. In an interview with the Lexington Herald-Leader, Henderson admitted that playing with his father was "freakin' miserable" and while his stats and accolades began to pile up, things at home got so miserable he left his parents' house.

During this time of uncertainty, Henderson's life took a downward spiral which included trying to buy 57 grams of marijuana with $800 in fake money, twice, and tried to exchange $100 of those counterfeit bills for real ones. He was charged with a misdemeanor account of forgery. Looking back at the situation, Henderson doesn't brag or find humor in it all. Instead, Henderson came to the realization that he was "definitely on the wrong path" and "it really opened my eyes to how much of an idiot I was being." Is he alone in learning the hard way by getting arrested? No. In fact, according to a December 2011 ABC News report, "by age 23, up to 41 percent of American adolescents and young adults have been arrested at least once for something other than a minor traffic violation."

Henderson followed that same trend, got in trouble and paid the price, but through it all, realized the error of his ways. Hardly the work of the prototypical "bad boy."

Of course, every success story has its ups and downs along the way. In January 2012, Henderson tested positive for cocaine, marijuana and alcohol, and was forced to serve 25 days in jail for violating his probation. Now, we're not saying that failing a drug test isn't bad, however, no one can condemn him for it when schools like Syracuse University are currently getting investigated for a wide-range of issues, including drug-related violations, and the University of Oregon was mired in widespread marijuana usage among students and athletes in 2012. Drug usage on campus is still alive, the coaches and athletic departments just conceal it.

Also, when it comes to campus life, people have ridiculed Henderson for openly speaking about his extra-curricular activities, which include dominating at the beer pong table or getting some, uh, attention from ladies on Twitter. But when did athletes engaging in sex or drinking while in college become so surprising? In this day and age of social media, more and more "private" matters are being aired out for the whole world to see. So, when you're fighting a losing battle with social media, why not embrace it whole-heartily like Henderson? At least we're not being tricked into believing something that isn't true. *cough, Tim Tebow's a virgin, cough* 


Yesterday, Deadspinpublished a piece implying that Henderson's off-the-court issues wouldn't be tolerated if he were black. This argument brings us back to the whole question of whether you can judge a book by its cover. The answer is yes and no. It's true that, on the surface, Henderson is a white basketball player who probably does get away with certain transgressions because he's Caucasian, however, as we mentioned before, drug usage tends to be something that gets swept under the rug, for the most part. The writer immediately points to Tyrann Mathieu's issues with drugs and compares them to Henderson's failed drug test and arrest for forgery. Now, it's not difficult to believe that there is some preferential treatment that comes with athletes of a certain caliber, especially when Mathieu's tests were administered within the NCAA and LSU while Henderson's was issued by his probation officer. The writer also fails to mention the fact that college football is a much bigger deal than college basketball, and LSU is a bigger deal than Utah, South Plains JuCo, Texas Tech, and Ole Miss combined.

Sometimes, a coach or even a program will turn a blind eye to a certain player's problems if it means that the school finds success in the given sport. This rule can apply to both Mathieu and Henderson. But, of course, we're on the outside looking in and we don't know what happens behind closed doors. When Honey Badger was finally let go by LSU, media outlets were reporting that the program let him go after repeatedly failing drug tests. How many failed tests does that entail? We'll probably never know. Yet, what we do know is that Mathieu entered rehab in August for marijuana "addiction." So, if someone's addicted to a drug, it's safe to assume that they've used it often, no? Since Mathieu was a finalist in the Heisman race, pulling in awards left and right, including the Chuck Bednarik Award for being the best defensive player in college football and 2011 SEC Championship Game MVP, as well as helping take the team to a National Championship Game against Alabama. All of this success equals money for the school and the better the athlete, the more willing the program is to turn a blind eye to it all.

Now, the writer also points to the absurdity of Henderson's actions in his attempt to buy weed with fake money. It was a stupid move on Marshall's part. Yet, we're just going to ignore the fact that Mathieu aligned himself with a former player who was intending to sell, only one month after getting kicked off the team for failing multiple drug tests. Yes, he was in an off-campus apartment at the time, but he had to realize that he was already in hot water and that there was a white hot light (no pun intended) directed at him. Then, the writer wonders if Henderson "would he have gotten another chance to play Division I ball" if he were black. How about this, would a black football player get a chance to compete in the NFL given his past bouts with marijuana? Most signs points towards a definite yes. And why's that? Because talent can sometimes serve as the greatest filter when analyzing an athlete. Think about it. In the 2012 NFL Draft, Justin Blackmon served a one-game suspension with Oklahoma State after a DUI, he still goes in the first round. What happened before he played a single game in the league? He was arrested again for, you guessed it, a DUI. But he's talented, and might we add, black.

It's not about race. It's about skills.

And when you look at his collegiate career, Henderson has more in common with every player, regardless of race. While the first thing people may notice is the four schools in four years, how many of those folks do their research before passing judgment? As it is with any player making the jump from high school to college, they want playing time immediately. Henderson received scholarship offers from accomplished programs like Notre Dame, Stanford and Gonzaga, but he went with Utah because, as a freshman, he felt that he would get minutes and be able to showcase his skills. Is it wrong for him to make that decision? No. Does it make him look selfish? Possibly. Would former players who were subjected to a collegiate career of bench-warming go to another school if they could do it all over again? Absolutely!

After one season, Henderson transferred to Texas Tech. His reason? "I want to be closer to home," Henderson said in a statement in April 2010. Deep down, as it is with many athletes, family is an important part of Henderson's life. Just look at the picture of Henderson with his grandfather, Lonnie, after winning the NJCAA national championship with South Plains Junior College. When the conflicts between himself and his parents were smoothed over, Marshall left immediately to be closer to them. If Henderson was the bad boy he's painted out to be, he would probably not give a damn about mending fences with his family after starting a life on his own at the University of Utah. In addition, prior to the 2013 NCAA Tournament, Marshall said, "I'm trying to get paid here soon because I'm tired of doing all this stuff for free. And this is where you make your money, the NCAA Tournament." On the surface, people probably see that statement stemming from a point of greed, but would you call any of the athletes who stay in college for one year before bolting greedy? Some, if not most people, will get a pass because they're simply trying to provide for their family. What makes Henderson any different? The message may have come off crass but the truth of the matter is that he wants to offer financial help for his family just like every other collegiate player that enters the draft.

Speaking of family, this same dynamic applies itself in the coach/player relationship which is sometimes the closest thing to a father/son relationship that an athlete can have. This is most likely why he chose to leave Texas Tech without playing a single minute. As NCAA rules stipulate, a transfer must sit out for a year before playing for their new school. Henderson did just that with the expectation that he would be coached by Pat Knight. Things didn't work out to plan and Knight was fired during the season Marshall sat out. With his plans going awry, Henderson transferred once again to JuCo South Plains College in Levelland, TX for one season before bolting again to a Division I program in Ole Miss. As you can tell, Henderson has been on the move often, but one thing has remained the same: his on-court antics.


While in high school, Henderson's father told him to do something that separates him from the pack. Those antics you see every game are just that.

While in high school, Henderson's father told him to do something that separates him from the pack. Those antics you see every game are just that.

It's true that Marshall has become known as the player that chucks up far too many threes in a game—eleven per contest, but who's counting, right? However, according to Henderson, "every team has a little white guy who can shoot threes. I'm trying to make a difference." He has a point. From taunting Florida with the "Gator chomp" to rubbing his game-winning free throws in the face of the Auburn student section, Marshall's displays can be seen as crazy or arrogant but they have also been effective in separating him from the field. After all, have you ever heard of Oakland's Travis Bader who averages more points per game (22.1) than Henderson while attempting nearly as many three-pointers per game (11.9)? Probably not because he's just another white player who can hit shots from behind the arc.  

So, is it all a calculated move on Henderson's part? It's hard to tell because those actions mostly stem from his competitive spirit. Just put yourself in his shoes. When playing away from your home court, you're getting booed for 40 minutes, fans call you countless names and you're expected not to respond, even when you crush their team's hopes of victory. It takes a lot of patience and not everyone has that type of composure. Obviously, Henderson is one of those guys. Funny thing is, people are so quick to chastise Marshall for his on-court bravado, but have any of those same people seen a streetball game?

When asked whether the villain shtick was being done on purpose, Henderson told USA Today's Chris Chase, "I guess. I don't know. I'm not real good at math...Other than two, plus three. I know that one well." A near confession by Henderson. That's the best we should expect to get out of him. Maybe he will come back for his senior season and entertain America like he did this year, but like every entertaining show, he needs to give us a cliff hanger. 

Latest in Sports