By Jules Boykoff, Contributing Writer
Scot Thompson is one of the longest standing members of the Portland Timbers in the modern era of the franchise. For years he’s been a crowd favorite on the field, but this year he has taken on a new off-the-pitch role as community ambassador. As the team transitions toward joining Major League Soccer next year, he sat down with Street Roots to talk about soccer, community service, and overcoming adversity.
Jules Boykoff: What does your role as community ambassador entail?
Scot Thompson: Basically in years past I’ve kind of been the person everyone goes to to facilitate different public appearances, different coaching clinics, but it was never really an official role. It was just something I kind of naturally did because I’ve been here probably longer than anyone else. This past year, with the title, I work a lot more with Sierra Smith who’s Director of Community Outreach, and I’m basically the spearhead when it comes to every appearance. I make sure the right players are working with the right groups. Because we have different players with different skill sets. We have guys that are much better public speakers as opposed to guys that are better hanging out with young kids or guys that can do the corporate appearances as well. That’s the main role, and then I’ve been given greater leeway to take the projects I like best and give them more face time, so I work a lot with the Children’s Book Bank — that’s one of my big ones.
J.B.: What’s that?
S.T.: Dani Swope, who I know through my coaching — I actually coach her son — she has this program that basically is a book drive organizing book deliveries for Head Start kids and kids who don’t have opportunities to have books in their homes. She has this great foundation that gets tens of hundreds of books to kids. Myself (Timbers teammates) Tony McManus, Keith Savage, George Josten, we’ve gone out a couple times now and helped them with the books, we’ve helped read at some of the schools. And that’s one of the big things that I really enjoy. I personally like to read a lot. I’m big into “Harry Potter,” and right now I have some pretty serious books I’m borrowing from [teammate] Adin Brown. But I do like to read a lot of kids books because I like being in that mindset. So, going out there and being able to read — kids really enjoy having us out there. Hearing from us that, yeah, we play soccer, but we also like to read, we like to have intellectual stuff going on besides the fun stuff of soccer.
J.B.: What’s the best part about being a professional soccer player in the United States? And what’s the worst part?
S.T.: The best part I would say is the guys that I get to hang out with on a daily basis. I have some very good friends throughout the league and in life from the group of guys I’ve played with. And I’ve been able to play with some of the top National Team players and I’ve been able to play with some guys that have only played a couple games but they’ve all really influenced me in what I’ve done. I’m not going to lie: it’s nice having some recognition. But at the same time, soccer is still a growing sport in the States and it does suck sometimes when people don’t know who you are or when you get asked a generic question like “Oh, you play for the Timbers — where do you guys play?” We’ve been working so hard to get soccer to a national level, but still many people don’t know — it’s not there yet. So, that part is kind of tough sometimes. When I went overseas for a couple trials, even as a trialist people knew was trying out with the team. You’d walk down the street and people would say, “Oh, you’re a footballer.” They’d talk to you. And here, you get recognized in pockets, but I can probably say that I’m more known in the community for my coaching than I am for playing for the Timbers. But I like that too — I really enjoy coaching kids.
J.B.: Without resorting to platitudes, what advice do you have for people who are trying to overcome adversity?
S.T.: You know, I would just say that you never know who’s watching you and you never know when you’re going to have an opportunity. So, every day should be a day when you try to put your best foot forward. There are going to be days when you don’t want to, days when it’s raining outside, you’re cold, you’re miserable, but you never know when an opportunity is going to knock. I always try to carry myself in the most professional way possible, and I’ve had a lot of opportunities come to me because I carry myself in such a way, and I don’t try to mess up. I don’t try to put myself in a bad light. And people’s reputations go beyond your initial reaction. If you have a good first impression and someone tells somebody else who tells somebody else, through word of mouth, people will hear about what you do.
J.B.: Sometimes overcoming adversity involves having people you look up to, a lot of times people in the public sphere. Who has inspired you?
S.T.: My dad was a huge, huge influence in my life. He’s a very black-and-white type of guy, and he instilled in me early on that you do your work first and then play soccer. And personally I’m a play-first-work-later kind of guy, but I do balance it out, I do actually work a lot now, but back when I younger he was always “Work first, play second. Always be on time. Always be professional. Always dress as if you’re being interviewed.” He definitely instilled my moral compass. I also had a couple youth coaches who really helped me get where I am today, who taught me — probably more so than anybody else—that you never know who’s watching. I think that’s always in the back of my head, because you never know, even when you want to do something stupid — because there are times when everybody wants to lay back — and you never know how that’s going to affect you later in life.
J.B.: Any public figures or historical figures who jump out to you as influential?
S.T.: I know it’s kind of cliché but Dr. King was always influential. To have to deal with that much adversity and still go out every day and put your best foot forward and still hold yourself to a high standard even though you have so much on your plate and so much against you. I really admire him.
J.B.: What are the “serious books” you’re reading?
S.T.: The book I’m reading right now is “A Man in Full” by Tom Wolfe, which Adin recommended to me. It’s basically high-stakes politics and all the internal espionage and everything that goes on in the city of Atlanta. It’s really interesting. I like to take people’s recommendations for books. I’m also a big science-fiction and fantasy reader. My dad got me really into Star Wars and Lord of the Rings and Star Trek and all that, so I have a lot of those books at my house. And every once in a while I divert and go in a different direction.
Jules Boykoff played professional soccer for the Portland Pride, collegiately at the University of Portland, and represented the US Olympic Team in international competition. He teaches political science at Pacific University.