FOXBOROUGH — Two days after their season-ending defeat against the Tennessee Titans, Patriots defensive backs Devin and Jason McCourty were championing an important cause just a stone’s throw away from Gillette Stadium.
The twin brothers hosted an advance screening of the film, “Just Mercy,’’ a drama that tells the true story of defense attorney Bryan Stevenson and his work to free a wrongly condemned death-row prisoner. The movie calls attention to the ongoing fight for criminal justice reform, an area in which the McCourtys have been very active over the past years.
“Everything that we believe in and that we’re fighting for, you’ll see in this movie,’’ Devin said Monday night at Patriot Place.
Among those in attendance were teammates Ja’Whaun Bentley, Adam Butler, Marcus Cannon, Jamie Collins, Dont’a Hightower, Derek Rivers, Elandon Roberts, and Ben Watson.
For the McCourtys, the showing was just another example of their advocacy for social justice and racial equality. The duo is hoping to foster inspiration similar to what they felt during the 2016 ESPY awards, when NBA stars LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, and Dwyane Wade delivered a powerful speech about race relations and violence in America.
“I remember me and [Jason] sitting there, saying, ‘I don’t want to just tweet about it,’ ’’ recalled Devin. “I think that really got guys together. We started to learn about different avenues that we can go down to actually create a difference, not just post about things to bring attention to it.’’
The twins have since been quite busy. In July 2018, they, along with teammate Matthew Slater, penned a Medium post, “Our Kids Don’t Have Time To Waste: Fund Our Schools.’’ At the Massachusetts State House in March 2019, they testified about why they’re supporting the Promise Act. (The legislation, officially known as the Student Opportunity Act, passed in September and will provide education funding to low-income areas.) In April 2019, they visited Boston Municipal Court to gain an up-close look at pretrial hearings.
They’ve lobbied for the state to up the minimum age for criminal responsibility from 7 to 12, spoken at schools, and raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for local nonprofits.
Their efforts, they hope, can not only make a difference, but also encourage others to get involved.
“People are seeing it, people are getting it, and people want to do more around us,’’ Jason said. “A lot of it is just awareness and opening everybody’s eyes to what’s going on. We’re ignorant to the things that we don’t know. The more we shed light on different things, the more change it can create.’’
“That stuff is so much bigger than football,’’ added Devin. “That’s probably a part of our purpose of even being football players.’’
As they continue to use their platforms to increase awareness for social issues, the McCourtys are no strangers to the backlash that may accompany their activism.
Devin remembers reading the tweets and e-mails the team received after he and Martellus Bennett raised their fists following the national anthem during the Patriots’ 2016 season opener. Jason, who raised his fist as a member of the Cleveland Browns in 2017, was also on the receiving end of negative commentary.
The brothers, however, say they don’t let the outside noise dampen their spirit.
“We got tweets everywhere from, ‘I hope you die’ to ‘I hope you tear both ACLs,’ and you realize things of that nature really have nothing to do with you,’’ Jason said. “I think, at the end of the day, it’s more about doing the things that you think is right.’’
“It kind of inspired me,’’ added Devin. “I spoke about it after the game and I explained why, that it had nothing to do with the national anthem and it was all about trying to be a voice for people that just didn’t have a voice in America. To see people still angry about that, I think it goes back to what [Jason] said.’’
Through their continued work, the McCourtys are hopeful others will one day follow suit.
“I just hope we can inspire the guys behind us,’’ Devin said. “The guys whose football careers are continuing to grow, the guys that are in high school and college now. I hope this becomes the new norm. When they make it to the NFL or the NBA, they don’t just play the sport, but they use the resources around them to make a difference in whatever they believe in.’’