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Bethel-Thompson has his eye on a bigger picture

Bethel-Thompson has his eye on a bigger picture
Sports
Toronto Argonauts pivot McLeod Bethel-Thompson can tell you a tale or two about 11 years in football in one of the most thankless and non-heroic roles in the game — backup quarterback.

But each year, when he visits Salvadorian kids in their homeland, the hero narrative changes.

Bethel-Thompson doesn’t transform into some football hero, but in teaching the kids football, and the value of staying in school and out of the gangs, he’s bringing much needed work to a Central American country with a history of gang violence.

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“There’s a lot of good people under a lot of pressure there every day,” Bethel-Thompson said Thursday.

Bethel-Thompson, who is one-quarter Salvadorian, works together with his sister, Cassaday, to bring football into the heart of the country where children, and in recent years young women, have been victimized by gang turf wars.

According to a Salvadorian defence ministry estimate, more than 500,000 of the country’s 6.5 million people are involved in gangs. The infamous MS-13 gang, the country’s largest, is rivalled by two others and the result — bloody turf wars — is what is recognized as the world’s highest murder rate for people under 19. (In 2016, some 540 Salvadorian minors were murdered, a rate of 1.5 a day).

Bethel-Thompson and his sister maintain a website – Caseproject.org – that details the efforts to enrich local Salvadorian kids with sports and community enhancement projects.

For the 30-year-old native of San Francisco, the drive to help Salvadoran youth also allowed him to connect with his grandmotherwho lives in Los Angeles but keeps close ties to a niece who lives in El Salvador.

“My dad is half (Salvadorian), I’m one-quarter … and my goal was to change lives through sports,” Bethel-Thompson said.

A veteran of six NFL teams who also played in the USFL and with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, Bethel-Thompson is always welcomed into the home of his grandmother’s niece when he makes his yearly trips for the Salvadoran kids.

He’s also worked with local and international charity groups – the Salvadorian Association of American Intramural Football, and Glasswing International – both of whom have missions to keep kids off the streets through football and after-school programs.

“I’ve made similar trips with (Hamilton Tiger-Cats quarterback) Jeremiah Masoli to Samoa, which is where he’s from, to help children and help with what his vision is,” Bethel-Thompson said.

Bethel-Thompson said he relies on his sister to carry out most of the work for his charity during football season.

While most of his career has been spent as a backup — he has said he’s been cut 11 times from pro football teams — he’s assumed the Argos starting job with Ricky Ray injured and the club looking for a spark after it went 1-3 in four James Franklin starts.

His first foray as the Argos’ starting quarterback proved dramatic: after a dismal first half in which Toronto fell into a 24-point deficit against Ottawa, Bethel-Thompson and S.J. Green took over, with the quarterback throwing for 232 of his 301 yards in the second half, including four touchdowns, to power the Argos to a 42-41 comeback win.

With the Argos mostly enjoying some off days in a bye week this week, Bethel-Thompson was back in the video room the day after the win. He makes no excuses about the first half and says he needs to work on his reads and footwork to ensure more consistent performances.

“Let’s face it: he hasn’t played much football in 11 years, but we were very proud of him, to redirect himself at the half and make plays in the second half to win us a football game,” Argos coach Marc Trestman said Thursday.

Trestman, meanwhile, said that the injured Ray — who suffered a neck injury in the second game of the season — has had his neck brace removed. But while that is good news, there is no timeline for the veteran pivot’s return to the active roster.

Trestman also said the team had “a very difficult time” releasing offensive lineman Brandon Washington earlier this week. A trade with Montreal that brought in Ryan Bomben gave the Argos more flexibility with its American-Canadian ratio of players, and made it necessary to part ways with Washington.
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