Video: Jamaal Charles, Tony Gonzalez Star In ‘NFL Characters Unite’ Documentaries
By Brett Gering
To Kansas City Chiefs fans, Jamaal Charles and Tony Gonzalez are viewed as Sunday superheroes. The former currently ranks as the NFL’s all-time leader in yards per carry (5.5); the latter is the all-time leader in receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns among tight ends.
Both have made livings in a contact-craving, testosterone-fueled sport and, for their respective positions, bench-pressed the bar of expectations.
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That being the case, it’s easy to forget that they weren’t always 10 feet tall and bulletproof.
For the fourth consecutive year, the NFL and USA Network will team up to offer a peek behind the curtain, providing a stark reminder that for many football players, thick skin—not shoulder pads—was originally their first means of protection.
Gonzalez’s episode, which was released in 2012, can be seen in full below. Charles’ story is scheduled to air later this week.
In Gonzalez’s portion of the presentation (which begins at the 22:27 mark), the future Hall of Famer describes a recurring cycle of bullying.
According to the Characters Unite website, the issue didn’t arise until his family—who, during the early stages of the tight end’s youth, lived in a multicultural community—moved to Huntington Beach, California.
"It became so bad that Gonzalez began to hide a skateboard outside of his classroom, to ensure a quick getaway once classes ended and he would be free of his bullies.The bullying eventually turned physical, when kids begun to throw things at him, push and hit him. One day when a group of bullies were chasing after him, Gonzalez became so frightened that he hid behind dumpsters, where his mother came to find him and it was in that moment that things changed. Gonzalez saw the disappointment in his mother’s eyes, and vowed to never hide from anyone or anything again. From that point on, Gonzalez took a stand for himself and his ethnicity."
Eventually, Gonzalez hit a growth spurt in his freshman year of high school. However, the aforementioned junior high trauma still remains fresh in his memory.
As a result, No. 88 offers some words of encouragement to Jonathan Allen—a 12-year-old who, from Gonzalez’s standpoint, shared an all-too-familiar experience after moving to Atlanta.
Last September, ESPN’s E:60 profiled Charles’ burdensome childhood, revealing, among other hurdles, a learning disability.
In his episode of NFL Characters Unite, Kansas City’s favorite backfield blur delves deeper into his past, using an absent relationship with his father to connect with a teenager, Martinous, who finds himself facing the same uphill climb.
The program’s website describes their meeting:
"In NFL Characters Unite, Jamaal meets Martinous, a 16-year-old whose father was incarcerated throughout most of his son’s life and then was murdered only a year after being released from prison. Raised by his mother, Martinous has been bullied for being different than other kids. He has been made to feel like he doesn’t act “man enough” because he hasn’t had a father in his life. At Arrowhead stadium, Jamaal explains to Martinous that expressing emotion is good and that the absence of his father doesn’t need to stand in his way. He encourages Martinous to pursue his passion of spoken word poetry, introducing him to local celebrated poets from the Kansas City Young Audiences program and challenging him to find the confidence to perform in front of an audience at the stadium. Jamaal gives Martinous a scholarship to the Kansas City Young Audiences program to continue to work on his poetry and a gift he will never forget about what it truly means to be a man."
At one point in the episode, as the two sit in the middle of the Chiefs locker room, the four-time Pro Bowler recounts his childhood struggles.
“I used to always go home and cry,” Charles said, “because I felt like nobody liked me.” A decade and change later, it’s safe to say that, if anything, the polar opposite holds true.
The 4th annual NFL Characters Unite documentary will premiere on the USA Network on Friday, February 6, at 6 p.m. CST.
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