Check out this recent article by Jack Bell. I love the title of it! Keeping perspective sure is hard to do. It’s a challenge and a battle that I believe we all fight daily. The last line of this article sums it up perfectly: “I want to be known for what I do off the field.” Don’t get me wrong, I love playing soccer professionally, but I’m starting to understand more and more why Jesus always talked about helping and loving others. It’s what life’s all about. I hope this helps you keep perspective today!
Wells Thompson would be the first to acknowledge that his life, in and out of soccer, has been sprinkled with soaring contradictions.
There is hardly a time in his life that the midfielder for the Carolina RailHawks, a North Carolina native, cannot remember being on a soccer field. After playing on a state cup champion, his soccer career and his life ran off the rails during his teen years in a haze of alcohol and drug abuse that landed him in a special school for troubled young people in upstate New York. After embracing his Christian faith, Thompson walked on to the team at Wake Forest University and then was drafted fifth overall by the New England Revolution of MLS in 2007.
Still, from the serenity Thompson, 31, has gained in his relationship with God, his play on the field is often the antithesis of kind, benevolent and gentle – In fact he has seen two red cards (dubiously tied for the lead in the NASL after appearing in 12 games this year) and five yellow cards.
““A lot of times when I get cards I’m just trying to be an honest, hardworking physical player,” Thompson told NASL.com. “Some of my frustration is with people that don’t play the game honestly. I’m not a big guy [a slim 5-10], so maybe I try and compensate. I’m a good American boy who believes in working hard. God wants me to be the hardest working, most aggressive, most passionate guy on the soccer field.”
Check. Check. And check.
His time on the field in the Fall Season has been limited, however, by an injury to his right hip, which will probably cause him to miss a few more games. Carolina (2W-2D-5L, 8 points) sits in 10th place in the standings ahead of Sunday afternoon’s visit to the New York Cosmos (4-3-1, 15 points). While the RailHawks are mired in a three-game losing streak and are without a victory in five games, the Cosmos are unbeaten in six matches before Wednesday’s top-of-the-table clash with Ottawa Fury FC.
On his Twitter page, part of Thompson’s bio reads, “Soccer is what I do, not who I am.”
“The first question when you meet someone is they ask what you do for a living, it’s usually how we associate that person – Wells Thompson soccer player,” he said. “Soccer has been a part of my whole life, I don’t know life without soccer, but I think you have to be careful when you place your identity on such a shaky foundation. When it’s taken away from you it can be a harsh reality.”
Thompson said he confronted that reality after the 2013 MLS season when he was not offered a new contract by the Chicago Fire. That was his third team in MLS, after winning the U.S. Open Cup with New England in 2007 and MLS Cup with Colorado in 2010.
“I wanted nothing to do with soccer,” he said. “I was ashamed of myself because the way I felt about myself was contingent on how I played, how much I played. If I had a bad practice I would be miserable the rest of the day. Soccer determined who I was and how I felt about myself. It caused me to go into depression. I wrote a blog post about killing myself. I placed all my identity in soccer and when it didn’t give me peace and joy I had terrible thoughts.”
He walked away from the soccer field and took up residence in rural North Carolina as a chicken farmer, but still was unable to find inner peace. In 2014, Thompson signed on with the Charlotte Eagles, a Christian team, in USL Pro. After that club moved down to the PDL, Thompson was able to sign with Carolina in February.
While his alter ego goes full out on the field, Thompson’s life off the field is all about his faith and family – with a pinch of time in the kitchen pursuing another of his passions, baking.
While he talked about his favorite “healthy dessert,” an apple pie crumble and gushed about his mother’s “world famous cinnamon bread,” the story of Thompson’s (basically) lifelong courtship of the woman who became his wife poured out. He said that he has known Daphne, a twin, “my whole life.
“Our parents went to the same church, we met in pre-kindergarten and she was my first girlfriend in the third grade,” Thompson said. “I gave her a kiss and then ran away. We broke up after that, but fell in love when we were 18.”
They have been together since, have been married for three years and have a young son (and a dog).
In addition to his play on the field, Thompson is active locally in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program, coaching, a faith-based Weekend With Wells program, a blog, and other projects.
“I’ve traveled around the world, Africa, South America, Central America and I’ve seen the struggles that people deal with and I’ve seen how screwed up the world is,” he said. “As a white American I’m among the top one percent of the world and I feel a duty to give back.
“To me, the measure of life is how much of yourself is poured out for others.”
For a religious guy, it came as a bit of a shock when, during his tenure with the Chicago Fire, fans began calling him El Diablo, the Devil, for his aggressive play on the field (during his eight seasons in MLS, Thompson earned 30 yellow cards and 2 red cards).
“It was probably a little play off my faith, I took it in stride,” he said. “My dad tried to put a positive spin on it and said when people call me El Diablo that I should say, ‘No, I’m King David!’ No one wants to be called the devil. I certainly would rather not be.”
Now in his early 30’s, the question for Thompson is how much longer he hopes to remain on the soccer field. Being near home and being with the RailHawks has rekindled the soccer pilot light that still burns deep inside.
“I’ve really started to love and enjoy the game again,” he said. “I love being with the guys, and I’m really trying to soak stuff in. I know it won’t be forever. If they want me to stay around I hope I can play a couple of more years, as long as I can.
“I want to be known for what I do off the field.”