Center Scott Wells, who played with the Green Bay Packers from 2004 through 2011 and now has a new home with the St. Louis Rams, spent part of his offseason insuring that three Ugandan children had a new home of their own, as well. Wells and wife Julie, who have three biological children, started to really feel the imperative to adopt in recent years, and an interesting set of circumstances took them to Africa to add to their family.
From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:
"We've always wanted a large family," Wells said, "And about six years ago we lost twin boys on Thanksgiving Day — they were stillborn. And since that moment, we kind of started talking about adopting.
"We had a lot of friends adopt, and it kind of seemed like it was something God was pushing us towards. The school my (biological) kids attend in Nashville, there's a lot of adoptions at that school. We'd started talking about it, we'd read a couple of books on it, and then we said, 'Well, that's something we'd like to do some day.'
"And then it was almost like everywhere we turned there was somebody who had adopted. I felt like God was really hitting me in the face with it. So once we had our last child, we got serious about it."
The Wells family wanted to adopt children from less fortunate countries, and their research took them to Uganda, in part because some family friends had adopted Ugandan children.
"To us, and talking to people who have done mission work over there and have adopted over there, the need was great," Wells said. "HIV's huge over there, malaria, tuberculosis. The life expectancy's not great; it's very low. The majority of the population's young because people don't live to be old. So we really just felt ... that's where we were being led."
Wells' wife started the process about a year-and-a-half ago, contacting orphanages in the area and explaining her family's desires and overall situation. One orphanage responded with the thought that they had two children who were perfect for them. The Wells family wanted to adopt two kids, both under age 3. But as it turned out, two-year-old R.J. had a sister named Caroline. After some discussion, the Wells family decided to go all in and adopt three instead of two.
"We decided to keep the brother and sister together," Wells said. "I said, 'What's the difference between five and six kids?' "
There were complications when Scott and Julie traveled to Uganda to complete the process. To prevent any possibility of infection, Scott had to wait until the sutures from his recent knwee surgery had closed. Once that was clear, there was the matter of inter-country adoption, which is more complex where they were headed.
"There's a lot of corruption that you're fighting," Wells, who signed a four-year, $24 million contract with the Rams in March, said. "Going into it we were really trying to keep quiet what I did for a living; how much finances we had or whatever. There's a little bit of that you have to disclose for the courts. They want to make sure you're financially responsible, that you can handle the children you're wanting to adopt.
"The key was to go in there as quietly as possible. I had to sign a contract with the orphanage saying I wouldn't discuss it via Twitter, Facebook, the media. Basically, I had to keep everything hush-hush until it was finalized. That's why Coach (Fisher) did an outstanding job of helping me keep it quiet. Because I had to tell (the Rams) so I could get permission to go."
Scott was in Uganda for a month, Julie for almost three. They were finally able to bring their three children -- R.J., Caroline, and Elijah -- home a week ago for the first full gathering of the new family. Rams head coach Jeff Fisher gave Wells the day off for that one so that Wells could travel to his Nashville home. Forget winning a Super Bowl, as Wells did with the Packers at the end of the 2010 season -- this was an experience at a different level.
"That was right up there — all time," Wells said. "One, seeing my biological childrens' reaction to seeing their mother again after not seeing her for 10 weeks. ... My 8-year old (Jackson) broke down immediately. It was pretty special."
Even more special was the reaction of the Wells' biological children to their new brothers and sisters.
"Seeing my 5-year old daughter [Lola] really take to the girl we had adopted and holding her hand, showing her around, and when we got home immediately going to her bedroom, playing dress up. Just seeing my 2-year-old [Kingston] taking the other two up to his room and showing them everything."
Wells is on pace with his knee recovery, and he studied his Rams playbook via iPad while in Uganda. As NFL offseasons go, this is about as enriching as any we've heard.