“It’s because of you...
Because I’m alone
Mentally, emotionally, socially
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You was a friend of mine
That used what you knew
To hurt me for self gain”
— Friend of Mine,
Martinous Woods, age 16
At one time, Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles shed those same tears, too.
As a youngster growing up in a gang-infested, high-crime area of Port Arthur, Texas, Charles cried himself to sleep at night, despondent about not having a father figure in his life and demoralized by the taunts of kids who teased him about his appearance and performance in class.
That’s why Charles reached out to Martinous Woods, a 10th-grader at Lincoln Prep, who lost his father at age 11 and has struggled to find acceptance while being bullied by other youngsters for being different.
Charles found his outlet through sports, especially football and track. Martinous expresses himself through his poetry.
And Charles is doing everything he can to encourage Martinous to focus on his interests and ignore the intimidators.
“I used to cry, too, not having a mommy and a daddy around me …” said Charles, who was raised predominantly by his grandparents and aunts while his mother was busy working and his father was absent from his life. “I’d feel that pain, crying at nighttime, saying, ‘Why me? Why me?’ He has this same thing, ‘Why me, God, why me?’ He’s trying to go overcome as a kid … and his passion is poetry — it’s how he escapes everything.”
Martinous’ father was incarcerated throughout most of his son’s life and was murdered a year after being released from prison. Martinous, who lives with his mother and younger sister, has been bullied and made to feel like he doesn’t act manly enough.
During his day off last Nov. 11, Charles invited Martinous for a visit to the Chiefs’ locker room at Arrowhead Stadium and shared his experiences.
“I wasn’t bullied, but I was picked on,” Charles said. “I wasn’t the best-looking kid growing up; I didn’t have the best-looking clothes. My teeth weren’t fixed — they were spread out … and I wasn’t the smartest kid growing up, so I got picked on a lot about that, too.”
In truth, Charles never lacked intelligence. But he had a learning disability that he overcame through special-education classes in high school and tutoring at the University of Texas, where he starred for the Longhorns on the field and track.
In fact, Charles was selected on to the Big 12’s second-team all-academic squad as a sophomore, a year before the Chiefs selected him in the third round of the 2008 NFL Draft. Charles, who turns 28 on Saturday, became the leading rusher in franchise history this season.
“That’s the best part about life,” said Charles, who is married and has two daughters. “A learning disability doesn’t define who I am today. I just wanted to give Martinous that challenge … People get picked on. Whatever he is going through, he can overcome it and be better for what he wants to do in life.”
Charles’ support of Martinous will be featured in the documentary “NFL Characters Unite” that will premiere at 6 p.m. Feb. 6 on the USA Network.
The documentary, which is part of a campaign to combat bullying, prejudice and discrimination, profiles three other NFL players, including former Olathe North and Kansas State running back Darren Sproles of the Philadelphia Eagles. Each faced difficult challenges and is working with youngsters through local YMCAs.
“Martinous is a good kid,” Charles said. “He had a rough time growing up without a daddy around. He’s been raised by a whole bunch of women, and he’s trying to become a man, and he doesn’t know how to become a man. I’ve tried to give him some words and wisdom … Sometimes people want a father figure in their lives to figure out how to become a man… but sometimes your father isn’t there, and you have to learn on your own to be a man.
“He’d get picked on at school, people would call him names, but that’s part of high school, and growing up. People are going to say bad things about you, but that will make you stronger as a person.”
Martinous, who lives in Kansas City with his mother and younger sister, has drawn inspiration from Charles’ story.
“I knew there were several other people out in the world who didn’t have a father figure, and there were actually famous people who grew up in a similar situation I’m in now,” he said. “So now I don’t feel as alone.”
“The mental and emotional insecurities
Ya place upon me
Bonded to a chain
From at my lips, keeping me from talking
To my heart, keeping me unfulfilled
To my feet, keeping me from leaving
Only I see the limits
Ya only set them”
Darren Sproles led Olathe North to a state championship, was a two-time all-state performer and rushed for 5,230 yards and scored 79 touchdowns before moving on to Kansas State. In Manhattan, he led the nation in rushing with 1,986 yards in 2003; he finished his career with 4,979 yards rushing and 80 touchdowns and placed fifth in the Heisman Trophy balloting his senior season.
But he shied away from speaking publicly because he was worried about what others would say about his stuttering. He stayed out of the spotlight as much as possible, in fact, avoiding making eye contact and limited his answers to just a word or two during interviews.
But during Sproles’ career as one of the NFL’s most dynamic all-purpose runners, he’s not only made strides in conquering his impediment, but also he’s helped others achieve their goals despite various disabilities.
Sproles is mentoring a high school-aged girl named Sheila, who has been teased so often about her stutter that she refused to speak at all in school to avoid ridicule. She also refused to participate in school activities, became anti-social and worried that her stuttering would keep her from fulfilling her goals of becoming a fashion designer.
Upon hearing about her, Sproles invited Sheila to participate in a YMCA fashion design program in Philadelphia and introduced her to a designer who also has a stutter ... and still has had a successful career.
“Sheila, who had battled with stuttering, really wanted to meet me,” Sproles said of his time with her last month. “We spent a lot of time that day just talking at the YMCA. She was really into fashion and designed a special anti-bullying shirt while we were there.
“It’s always good to show kids that while you might have a struggle, you still can make it. That shouldn’t hold you back from doing what you want to do.”
“So I need a break
I want a BREAK
I want a memory
I want to GET OUT of this place
Ya think it ain’t that bad
But I promise
Once I’m gone, that’s it
How I feel ain’t how you feeling
because if that was the case
How are you still alive....”
On Wednesdays, Martinous participates in acting classes with the Kansas City Young Audiences program. He’s in the advanced program, and when he’s not acting, he recites his poems.
“I write how I feel at the moment — things that are going around and happening around me, and things that are on my mind. A majority of it is pretty sad and very deep,” said Martinous, who hopes to attend the Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University.
Charles, who has contributed to Martinous’ scholarship at Kansas City Young Audiences, came away impressed by what he’s heard.
“He’s really talented,” Charles said. “He wants to be an actor one day, and I think it’s great he can come up with these great poems and express his feelings. That’s how he gets things off his chest.”
Martinous has not written any football poems — yet.
“It’s something I could work on,” he said with a smile.
Charles, who still returns to Port Arthur each summer and conducts free football camps for youngsters in his impoverished hometown, is determined to see Martinous succeed in whatever career he chooses.
“I tell him to just stay strong, set goals in life, and try to accomplish your goals,” Charles said. “Listen to your momma, listen to your teachers. Just because you don’t have a daddy, your momma can play a better role than a daddy. My momma and aunties who raised me, they (filled) a better role …
“Everybody is different in this world. The same people who talk about you, just have them in your mind and in your thoughts so when you come back and make it big, you can say, ‘Look at me, now.’”