Charles Thompson (American football)
|Height||5 ft 10 in (1.78 m)|
|Weight||175 lb (79 kg)|
May 28, 1968 |
|1989 Florida Citrus Bowl|
Charles Thompson (born May 28, 1968) is an American businessman, motivational speaker, and former football player, best known for his tenure and spectacular downfall as the quarterback of the Oklahoma Sooners.
Rise with the Sooners
Raised in Lawton, Oklahoma, Thompson proved to be a highly skilled athlete and was recruited by the University of Oklahoma, a premier NCAA Division I-A college football program, under head coach Barry Switzer. He was also drafted by Major League Baseball's Cincinnati Reds in the 34th round as a second baseman; however, he decided to focus on football. As a redshirt freshman, Thompson became the starting quarterback of the nationally ranked Sooners for the 1987 season. The highlight came on November 21, 1987, when Thompson led the offense of then #2-ranked Sooners to a dominating victory over the #1 Nebraska Cornhuskers in a game that was heavily hyped as the Game of the Century II. Thompson subsequently appeared on the cover of the November 30 issue of Sports Illustrated as the Sooners took the #1 spot in the polls. While the Sooners would drop their final game of the season in the 1988 Orange Bowl and finish 11-1, Thompson's status as a nationally famous collegiate athlete was confirmed.
During the 1988 season, Thompson, now a redshirt sophomore, led the Sooners to a 9-3 record but did not play due to a leg injury in the 1989 Florida Citrus Bowl. Thompson was a successful quarterback, named to the All-Big Eight Conference - 1st team. Off the field he was a celebrity, volunteering to speak to at-risk youth about how to succeed in the face of adversity and, the danger of illegal drugs.
On January 26, 1989, the FBI videotaped Thompson selling 17 grams of cocaine for $1,400 to an undercover agent. On February 13, Thompson was arrested in Norman, Oklahoma and charged with dealing cocaine. He was released to his mother's custody on February 15, to await trial as Thompson waived his right to a preliminary hearing. In the meantime, the Sooners suspended him from the team.
A media frenzy followed the arrest, peaking when a notorious picture of the handcuffed Thompson in a prison jumpsuit appeared on the cover of the February 27, 1989 issue of Sports Illustrated, accompanied by accusations that the Switzer-led Sooners were out of control. Switzer's Sooners had already been under heavy public and media scrutiny before the incident as players had been arrested, in separate incidents, for assault with a deadly weapon and rape. With the national coverage brought by his star quarterback's arrest, Switzer resigned as head coach soon afterwards after leading the team for sixteen seasons.
Trial and prison
At his trial at a federal court in Oklahoma City, Thompson pleaded guilty, saying he knew he had done wrong and would take his punishment. The plea waived his rights to a jury trial and grand jury consideration of his case. He was convicted on April 26 of one count of conspiracy to distribute cocaine and sentenced on August 31 to two years in prison. He entered a federal prison in Big Spring, Texas on September 20, 1989.
While in prison, Thompson spoke out on the pressure and vices that can befall big-time college football. He was interviewed for ESPN by Chris Fowler, and, with Allan Sonnenschein, wrote the 1990 book Down and Dirty: The Life and Crimes of Oklahoma Football (ISBN 0-88184-623-6).
Return to football
Although his sentence carried a maximum term of 27 months and a minimum term of 21, he was released after 17 months and transferred to Central State University, a historically black university located in Wilberforce, Ohio. He joined Central State's then-NAIA football team primarily as a running back, and helped them win the 1992 NAIA Division I Championship. As a 24-year-old junior, Thompson carried 200 times for 1,018 yards and five touchdowns and caught 29 passes for 439 yards and 7 touchdowns. He decided to forgo his senior year and enter the 1993 NFL Draft; but his past proved to be too great a risk for NFL teams, and he went undrafted and never played in the NFL.
With his football career over, Thompson completed his degree, reaffirmed his Christianity and married. He found success as a motivational speaker, and his turnaround was featured in a Sports Illustrated "Where are they now?" feature. He currently lives with his wife and three children in Oklahoma City. His son Kendal, transferred from the University of Oklahoma to the University of Utah. He was instrumental in Utah's win over #8 UCLA on October 4, 2014.
- Thompson's appearances on the covers of Sports Illustrated are considered a prime example of the Sports Illustrated cover jinx.