After a season in which he gator-chomped down the court at Florida, taunted students at Auburn and posed for photos pounding every brand of light beer imaginable, Ole Miss guard Marshall Henderson had one last surprise in store.
On Wednesday afternoon, he apologized.
In a letter to Ole Miss fans announcing he will return to school for his senior season, Henderson also addressed his oft-discussed volatile behavior on and off the floor. He didn't specifically reference any one instance, but the high-scoring guard expressed the desire to be a better leader for his team as a senior.
"The spotlight on the court means my actions affect more than just me, and I need to show my teammates that I can be a leader for this team. I play the game with a lot of passion, and sometimes that passion boils over. I take responsibility for my actions this season and apologize to anyone I offended. However, my edge on the court has made me the player that I am. I can’t change that, but I do understand that I can take things too far.
"I have come to understand this year that I represent this team and this university, and I have to hold myself to a higher standard than people in the stands, because I am a student-athlete at Ole Miss."
The letter from Henderson comes 10 days after his most blatant and high-profile misstep. When a handful of fans in Kansas City booed him as he walked off the court following a round of 32 NCAA tournament loss to La Salle, the Ole Miss star raised both arms and flipped off the entire arena before an assistant coach yanked him into the tunnel.
Moreso than any of his other incidents, which were mostly harmless if unsportsmanlike, Henderson crossed the line in that instance. As he noted in his letter, he has to grow up and realize he's creating a distraction for his teammates, harming his public image or that of Ole Miss and not setting a good example for young kids who look up to him.
The letter from Henderson is a good first step. Nobody is naive enough to believe that Henderson won't still play to the crowd and use fans' taunts as fuel, but it would benefit him and his team if he learns to rein in his emotions a bit and be more conscious that he is a public figure now.
Still, as I wrote the day after the incident in Kansas City, fans and media – myself included – deserve some of the blame for creating Henderson's wrestling heel persona.
We celebrated Henderson's on-court taunts and press conference quips because they were a season-long source of entertainment. As a result, we can't be surprised when he occasionally takes his exuberance too far.