Their Dad Was Like a Brother. Now Pacman Jones is Family.


AMELIA, Ohio — Adam Jones’s days begin early.

The alarms in his Cincinnati-area home blare for the brood of six kids at 6 a.m. on weekdays. And Jones, who is known as Pacman, and his wife, Tishana, alternate chauffeuring them to school and day care.

To see Jones as a busy, car-pooling father is a sharp contrast from his days as a Pro Bowl defensive back who drew headlines off the football field. “I was the first of the era to let it be known, ‘Hey, people going to the strip clubs,’” Jones said. “Nobody wasn’t doing that before me. I started all that making it rain.”

The comment is a reference to Jones’s behavior around the time of his most infamous infraction in 2007, when his showering a strip club dance floor with dollar bills led to a melee that left a security guard paralyzed from a gunshot wound. Jones was given one year of probation and was ordered by a civil jury to pay $11 million to two of the club’s employees. Because of that and other run-ins with the police, the N.F.L. suspended Jones for the season.

That Jones, once one of the N.F.L.’s poster athletes for repeated misdeeds, is the head of a modern-day Brady Bunch will shock most casual fans of the game. But by shepherding the bursting household, Jones hopes he can help them all avoid some of his missteps, even as he strives to right his own path.

Now, the value of the dollar is one of the key lessons Jones is trying to impart to all the children in his care. He and Tishana provide them with allowances to help them learn how to manage money.

One recent morning, the kids awoke to find Jones muddied and sweaty. He had spent the pre-dawn hours cleaning out the gutters after a person whom he had hired for the job did not show up.

“Damn near killed myself, but it was just the point of letting them know, yeah, we got money, but, I can go and do this myself if I had to,” Jones said.

It’s another lesson Jones is trying to instill within the growing house, which now includes the teenage sons of Chris Henry, the college teammate and close friend Jones called Slim, who died in 2009.

When Jones approached their mother, Loleini Tonga, about the boys coming to live with him, she said she felt like a prayer had silently been answered. She would miss the boys, but had wondered how she would help them navigate their teens without a male presence.

Chris Henry Jr. is a lanky, 15-year-old high school freshman wide receiver with lofty gridiron dreams that match those of his father, who died when Chris Jr. was 2.

Though he’s watched video of Chris Sr. playing with him and his siblings, he does not remember much about his father. Jones is there to fill in the gaps, offering a fuller portrait of Henry.

“He was special, man,” Jones said of Chris Sr. “When you see Man-Man,” — Chris Jr. — “it’s like a spitting image. For real, the way he walks, the way he talks.”

The way the teenager glides on the football field gives Jones chills, just like the kid’s ability to fall asleep nearly anywhere off it.

Last year, Adam and Tishana invited Chris Jr. and DeMarcus, 13, to move in and signed custodial papers so they could help the boys navigate big-time high school athletics and the minefield of college recruiting.

“It’s motivating me every day,” Chris Jr. said. “Grinding, getting better, so I can eventually, one day, be better than him.”

Their sister, Seini Hicks, a 16-year-old basketball player being eyed by several colleges, joined them this year. (Hicks is Tonga’s daughter from a previous relationship.)

“We’ve done a really collectively, I feel, a great job of really making sure that they know their father and his presence,” Tishana Jones said.

Throughout their youthful, heady days, Jones and Chris Sr. felt like only they understood what it meant to operate under the N.F.L. microscope, gifted with money, fame and no road map for managing it all.

They talked often on the phone, losing hours laughing, always ending their calls by promising each they would be all right.

Then one day the calls stopped.

Days before Christmas in 2009, Henry, then a Cincinnati Bengals receiver, was bickering with Tonga, his fiancée, at her Charlotte, N.C., home. As she left the house, he climbed into the bed of her pickup but later fell from the moving truck and died from his injuries at the age of 26.

Jones, 38, has carried Henry’s memory with him since. “A part of his heart chipped off and left with him,” Tishana Jones said of her husband.

They both bend their schedules and budget to nurture their children. Jones’s eldest daughter, Zaniyah, 16, is a track star at his old high school in Atlanta but visits often. Then there’s Triniti, 12, Adam Jr., 4 — Tishana and Adam’s kids together — and Dantrell Moses, 15, who also plays football.

Jones said he has done “pretty much everything that I can think that I want to do as far as in my lifetime.” He added: “I love hard and I’m real big on this family thing.”

Jones thought of Henry and the weight of caring for his friend’s children. Tears replaced chills. A stream quickly replaced a trickle.

“I can’t fake this,” he said. “I really, really love these kids.”

He and Chris Sr. fought like family back in college. Chris Henry arrived to college at West Virginia from Louisiana in 2002, talented, but insular. He redshirted his freshman year and in Jones’s estimation, put forth little effort.

But Jones, also a freshman, could see Henry’s untapped athleticism, the ease with which the lanky receiver excelled when he chose to. So he decided to get closer to him. Jones warned their coach, Rich Rodriguez, against interrupting any arguments between he and Henry during practices.

Jones challenged and poked Henry, all the while talking trash. Henry responded. The competition elevated the entire program to a ranking as high as sixth in the country.

Henry mixed his talent with a temper. In the fourth quarter of a 2004 game against Rutgers he received an unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty after hauling in a 69-yard touchdown. After another touchdown catch a few minutes later, Henry tossed the ball at the defensive back he had beaten, drawing an ejection.

Making the N.F.L. had always been the goal for both Jones and Henry and together they declared early for the 2005 draft.

Henry was selected in the third round by the Bengals and quickly developed into a deep-threat favorite of quarterback Carson Palmer in his rookie season. Unbeknown to many, he worked quietly with the team on learning how to be a professional.

“Chris would spend a lot of the afternoons in my office with our people from public relations, to help mentor, counsel him how to present himself, how to speak during an interview,” said Marvin Lewis, who coached Henry and later Jones in Cincinnati.

In Tennessee, Jones, whom the Titans selected with the No. 6 overall pick, quickly developed a reputation for creating havoc on and off the field. A daring kick returner, Jones took pride in rarely signaling for a fair catch — inviting opponents to try to catch him. As a defensive back, receivers seldom found separation from Jones, who made a habit of gobbling up interceptions.

The play and memorable nickname proved lucrative for Jones.

“It changed me because I didn’t know the value of a dollar,” he said of the newfound fame and money.

Henry and Jones’s off-field transgressions nearly cost them their N.F.L. careers. In 2007, Commissioner Roger Goodell suspended each for separate violations of the N.F.L.’s personal conduct policy on the same day: Jones for an entire season and Henry for eight games after both had a series of police run-ins and arrests.

Jones has since gotten chances to straighten his career and life trajectory. He does not regard himself as a finished product: He drew N.F.L. fines for dirty plays during his tenure with the Bengals and last year, Jones pleaded no contest to an assault at a nightclub.

Every day gives Jones a chance to build a future. Henry lost that opportunity.

When he died, Seini, Chris Jr. and DeMarcus were all under 4 years old. Once the initial wave of mourners stopped calling to check in, “Uncle Pac” and Aunt Tish kept inviting Tonga and the whole crew to visit Cincinnati in the summer. The Joneses chatted with them by video call while they were in Charlotte during the school year and regularly surprised the growing children by sending boxes of athletic gear.

The year after Henry’s death, Tishana delivered Triniti just 23 weeks into her pregnancy with Jones on the verge of signing with the Bengals following tumultuous stints with the Titans and Dallas Cowboys.

Serving suspensions and awaiting a team to sign him, Jones said he felt lonely without the game, betrayed that he had helped out supposed friends and teammates who deserted him when it seemed like his career would not recover. Now, he had a child who he could not let down.

Tishana and Jones spent the next four months of training camp and the season’s start driving nearly two hours after practice to see her at the hospital. “When you can’t do nothing about it, it puts you in a different place and makes you be thankful for the little things,” Jones said.

Lewis joked that he has never once called Jones “Pacman.” Over eight seasons together with the Bengals, the coach found Jones far more likable and knowledgeable than he had read and heard about. He was there when Jones married Tishana in 2014, following years of dating, and recalled their wedding where the reception dinner consisted of chicken wings and macaroni and cheese.

“We all had a ball because we all realized the significance of this day and what it took to get him there,” Lewis said. “And then watching him up there during the wedding, organizing everybody, making sure everybody was doing what they were supposed to do while he was getting married, it was like he was the wedding coordinator.”

Jones rallied and resuscitated his career, retiring in 2019 as the last active defensive player from his 2005 draft class.

“She taught me patience,” Jones said. “Because my patience wasn’t really like it is now. Younger, growing up, you used to keep your guard up all the time. Like, ‘I got to defend myself. I got to defend myself. I got to defend myself.’ You got to get yourself in some kind of place where you’re happy and cool, where you don’t have to go out and try to defend yourself every day.”

During an August early afternoon, Jones sat in the offices of a spacious sports complex he purchased just outside of Cincinnati. Adam Jr., who would start prekindergarten in a couple weeks, had just performed agility drills that no one his age should be capable of.

Jones figured he could either overpay someone to train his children or save money, invest his time and do it himself, while inviting others from his community.

Tonga was in town, staying under the same roof, to see her children. Along with the Joneses, they decided to spend the rest of the afternoon checking in on the boys at football practice before attending Seine’s volleyball game that night.

They exited the gym to a sunny day.

“Bye, Mommy,” Adam Jr., who goes by Junie, said. “Bye, Daddy. I love you.”

“I’m going to be watching you,” Jones cautioned to Triniti, who stayed to babysit Adam Jr. and Ofa, Tonga’s 7-year-old daughter.

Jones pulled up his phone to show lives cameras of the gym.

“See this?” he said. “You’re on candid camera.”

The parents ducked into separate white Mercedes cars — Jones by himself and Tishana and Tonga together.

At his practice, Chris Jr. stood a football helmet above any other teammate. He is tall enough to have once innocently asked Jones if he will grow out of the sport that he has loved since he can recall.

A helpless defender did everything but tackle him on a one-on-one drill. Chris Jr. still easily caught the ball.

“That’s 16 flags,” said Dee Alston, West Clermont High School’s offensive coordinator and another teammate of Henry and Jones at West Virginia.

Jones bounced around the field, going over techniques with some of the team’s defensive backs, before leaving with Tishana and Tonga around 5 p.m. for a quick drive to West Clermont Middle School to catch the end of DeMarcus’s football practice.

Nicknamed Bubba by his dad for his chubbiness as a baby, DeMarcus is another lanky receiver with silky hands, but he prefers basketball for now. “I just love getting buckets,” he said.

The Joneses and Tonga returned to the gym around 6 p.m., picking up Adam Jr. and Ofa on the way so everyone could attend Seini’s high school volleyball game.

“We love each other as if we all came out the same stomach,” Tonga said.

The children piled into the stands. Jones watched for a while before slipping outside to the field where there was a varsity soccer game.

A couple teenagers outside the gym approached Jones for pictures as he discussed his business ventures, including a cannabis store and the I AM ATHLETE podcast, which he co-hosts.

The sun started to set on another busy day. Jones, contemplated getting in one final workout with the children at the gym.

He considered it a day well spent — one that Henry would be proud of.

“I ain’t saying that I got it all right now, but I’m way better than what I was,” Jones said.



Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2022/09/19/sports/football/pacman-jones-chris-henry.html