McLeod Bethel-Thompson isn’t a name many Dolphins fans know. He’s a journeyman quarterback whose best (and probably only) chance of making the team is as the backup to the backup.
But for dozens of Salvadorian kids, he’s the bridge to American football — and possibly a better life. Bethel-Thompson, who is one-fourth Salvadorian, is visiting the Central American nation this weekend to teach 75 kids the fundamentals of football and to encourage them to stay in school and out of gangs.
“We wanted to be part of something bigger than ourselves,” said Bethel-Thompson, who goes by ‘Mac.’ “Part of growing up, you figure out who you want to be as a person.”
Bethel-Thompson wanted to be connected with the land of his grandmother’s birth. Mercedes Zapata Bethel — his father’s mother — grew up there before moving to the United States for college. Bethel-Thompson still has cousins who live there, and he has been back for weddings and birthday parties.
But nothing nearly as official as his trip last summer. Bethel-Thompson, who hopes to make the Dolphins’ active roster after spending time on their practice squad last year, visited El Salvador and Costa Rica for youth sports clinics and also to help rebuild a school. He worked with the Salvadorian Association of American Intramural Football, whose mission is “keeping kids off the streets,” Bethel-Thompson said.
He also got connected with another charity, Glasswing International, which runs after-school programs throughout Central America.
And he enjoyed the work so much, he’s going back. Bethel-Thompson flew to El Salvador on Thursday for a two-day football clinic. The aim is help at-risk youth stay out of gangs.
El Salvador’s capital, San Salvador, has a gang epidemic. Though the nation has only a little more than six million citizens, thousands belong to gangs, including the ruthless MS-13. The U.S. State Deparment warns Americans that crime and violence in that country are “critically high.”
In a span of 72 hours last fall, the capital city had 52 murders. Thirty-three American visitors were killed between 2010 and 2014, and extortion, mugging and highway assaults are among the most common crimes.
“The gang problem is very real for almost the entire population,” said Bethel-Thompson, who knows there are plenty of parts of the country unsafe for most anyone — American or otherwise. “But it is improving. It’s a million times better than it was 10 years ago.”