"I was labeled as the geek, the loser," Tillman says in the documentary. "I didn't really fit in."
Each week, viewers can watch Tillman and the other players in webisodes posted at charactersunite.com and usanetwork.com. Webisodes featuring Tillman, Green Bay Packers wide receiver Randall Cobb and Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice already are on the sites. New York Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz and linebacker Mark Herzlich, New York Jets center Nick Mangold, Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt and Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant also are participating in the mentoring program.
All this leads up to the one-hour documentary "NFL Charaters Unite," presented by GMC and airing at 6 p.m. Jan. 31 on USA during Super Bowl XLVIII weekend. The documentary, narrated by former NFL star and NBC Sunday Night Football sportscaster Cris Collinsworth, has more in-depth stories of the players and their experiences in meeting and mentoring the students. The one-hour special will launch Characters Unite Month, when USA Network promotes greater tolerance, respect and acceptance.
The program pairs each player with a young person experiencing difficulties and through conversations and confidence building activities, help the kids overcome challenges to achieve their dreams.
Tillman worked with 16-year-old Katy, who like Tillman grew up in a military family that moved around a lot. After moving to Chicago, Katy was made to feel like an outcast but found solace in her school's theater classes. But a group of mean girls made the class a nightmare for her, so she dropped the class.
"I can see a little bit of myself in her," Tillman says in the webisode. "I can totally relate to her about getting bullied."
Tillman tells Katy that she can't let bullies take anything away from her, especially something she loves as much as acting. "You know how many people say that I'm old and I shouldn't play in this league?" he asks her. "I love to prove people wrong. And it starts with you. Believe in what you want to do."
Katy says she'll try, but Tillman doesn't accept the answer, quoting Yoda from the "Star Wars" movies: "Do or do not, there is no try."
He then surprised Katy by taking her to an improv class at Second City, where she participates in the class and does a live show. Later, Second City offers to enroll her in classes.
"To be so accepted, it made me feel great inside," Katy says. "I'm not going to let people stop me from doing what makes me happy."
The experience was fulfillinf for Tillman, too. "If I can have a smidget of influence on Katy and her acting career, then I've done my job."
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