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Original Issue

Tackling Trauma

NFL stars reach out to troubled kids in a powerful documentary

In NFL Characters Unite, a 60-minute documentary set to air on Friday on USA, 14-year-old Jonathan Allen (below) sheds a tear as he tells Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez about being bullied so fiercely that he contemplated suicide before his family relocated. "I would see other kids on TV who killed themselves," Jonathan says, "and I'd be like, I wonder how it is up there, do they still get bullied in heaven?"

It seems hard to imagine, but the 6'5", 251-pound Gonzalez was afraid to leave his house in junior high because of bullies. He tells Allen, "Look at me now."

Gonzalez is joined by Steelers receiver Hines Ward, Saints tight end Jimmy Graham and former Colts coach Tony Dungy, who share their stories of overcoming discrimination in a film that, though it covers familiar ground, is singularly powerful. Clearly, even an oft-told positive message can be life-altering to someone hearing it for the first time. "To see that they went through basically the same thing that I did," says Carlton Dennis, 18, who was born in Trinidad and was surprised to learn that Ward once felt like an outcast because of his race, "makes me feel more confident in myself."