Erin Henderson will be back in the starting lineup Sunday when he returns home to Maryland to play the Ravens, but his absence from the lineup the last two weeks had more to do with his mental state of mind than anything else.
Henderson, who was pulled over last month on suspicion of driving while intoxicated, missed the three days of full practice leading up to the Packers game. But last week he made it clear that it wasn’t the police stop that was the reason for him missing practice. It was a personal issue with his emotional state of mind that he needed to address.
Asked where his head is at these days, Henderson said he’s in a much better place mentally right now and ready to get back to doing what he loves.
“I’m a lot better,” Henderson said. “I’ve taken a lot of strides. When you do that self-reflection and look at yourself in the mirror and see the person looking back at you, right now I’m comfortable with that guy. I like the person that I see.”
The process of getting to a good place mentally is a struggle for Henderson at times, but he believes he is making improvement in that regard because he’s asserting himself by reminding himself on a daily basis that he doesn’t have to listen to what others say about him or transmit through social media.
“(I’m) waking up every morning and telling myself I’m going to be happy and I’m not going to let the outside world and other people dictate to me my mood – how I feel and how I go about my day,” Henderson said. “I have a lot of things to be happy about and thankful for aside from all the naysayers, haters and everybody else who’s had different things to say about me throughout the year. Sometimes I let it get to me and get down too much. I’ve come to grips with it and come to terms with it. I’m able to look at myself and know the man that I am and accept it.”
Henderson has been sensitive to the issue that he was miscast as a middle linebacker. The Vikings were vilified in the local media for not making more of an effort to upgrade at linebacker, something Henderson has taken personally.
“It can be tough,” he said. “I go out there every Sunday and I play my guts out, lay it on the line for my teammates and myself as well. When you get some negative feedback it can be kind of a tough pill to swallow. But then you learn some of those people are idiots, sitting behind computers and phones saying whatever they want to say and you can’t give it too much credit. Take it with a grain of salt and continue to move forward.”
His being open to attacks from anybody with a Twitter account and bloggers without much accountability has taken a toll. Henderson said he won’t shut down his Twitter account because then the haters win, but if you’re looking for a lot of updates from Henderson on his Twitter account, you’ll be out of luck.
“I don’t really go on there too much,” Henderson said. “I thought about deleting my account, but that’s giving them even more satisfaction. I still have my account, but it’s not on my phone so I don’t check it as often and I don’t tweet out too much. I think it is still good for those fans who appreciate the interaction and being able to reach out to people. There are a lot of good people out there. I get a lot of positive feedback as well. I don’t think I give that enough credit or appreciation for the people who are talking well about me and who have things to say about me. It can be kind of difficult to see sometimes with so much negativity coming your way.”
When Henderson missed the Green Bay game, Audie Cole took his place and had a very strong performance in his first start. It earned him a second start after Henderson returned, and now that Henderson has moved back to his weakside linebacker position, he sees that as being viewed as a demotion.
“Even with Audie going out there playing well, instead of people just being happy for Audie playing well, (it’s) ‘Erin sucks. Get him out of there. He should never play again.’ Why do I have to have anything to do with that? Just be happy for Audie and what he’s doing and the opportunity he’s taking advantage of.”
Henderson is feeling 180 degrees different. At the conclusion of his impromptu press conference, he told the reporters, who are often his harshest critics, “I love you guys.” He’s made a change in his approach and appears to have crossed through a door to his own personal mental health. The cause of this transformation has been assisted by Henderson’s support circle – family, friends, teammates, etc. – but Henderson said that, if real change is to be made, it has to come from within and it will be his defiance in letting harsh criticism define him anymore.
“I think I’m going to have to take this one myself,” Henderson said. “There are a lot of times you have to do things for yourself in order to really be able to turn the corner and become what you think you want to be and who you say you want to become. You can’t really rely on too many people because you never know what their mood is going to be like, what their day is and how they’re feeling. I’ll take credit for my transformation.”
Turning the corner will be a process, but one Henderson seems committed to achieving that goal. He’s back with his teammates and getting about his business. The only difference is that this time he’s feeling better about himself and doesn’t think his teammates see issue as a sign of weakness or lack of commitment.
“My teammates enjoy me,” Henderson said. “With everything that’s been happening, I don’t feel like I’ve lost their respect or their love around here. That’s been huge for me to continue to have their support. My mental state’s where it’s supposed to be, probably a lot better than it has been in a long time.”
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.