Devin McCourty is the chairman of the board of the Patriots secondary — its leader, longest-serving member, and most trusted communicator. The safety is putting those skills to work to strengthen the medical safety net for the community, serving on the hospital board at Boston Medical Center.
McCourty’s legacy is being a dependable difference-maker not only on the field, but off it.
The three-time Super Bowl champion joined the hospital board in March. He and his twin brother and ex-teammate, Jason, were already involved with the hospital through their Tackle Sickle Cell Casino Night fund-raiser, combatting a disease that heavily afflicts the Black community and claimed the life of their aunt Winnie. Since teaming up with the hospital in 2017, Devin and Jason, who serves on the BMC Philanthropic Trust, have raised more than $1.2 million for BMC’s Center of Excellence in Sickle Cell Disease, the largest center in New England.
But being one of 30 members of the hospital’s board is a different level of commitment. It’s an opportunity to do even more to affect equality in health care in communities of color. (Disclosure: I’m a patient at BMC.)
“The best thing I heard when I got to BMC was just their slogan: ‘Exceptional care without exception,’ ” said Devin McCourty. “As soon as I got on the board, and they started talking about that I was like, ‘Man, this is where I’m supposed to be.’
“One of the main things being on the board and now being in these meetings and being a part of them is I can feel comfortable going out in the community and talking to different people. I’m not saying I have all the answers or everything figured out, but I feel more comfortable going and talking about different things because I’m a part of some of those decisions. I hear why decisions are being made.
“That makes me feel a lot better when I go up and talk to somebody, whether it be about COVID, whether it be about sickle cell . . . I’ve actually been a part of it. I think that’s when you can have an impact.”
The board meetings are virtual and tend to be on Tuesdays, usually a day off for Patriots players. McCourty is not a token member or there to rubber-stamp decisions. There is substantial research and homework preparing for the meetings and engaging in decision-making.
The veteran defensive back leans on his doctor spouse, Michelle, to translate some of the hospital-ese and medical argot when necessary.
Initially, McCourty resisted being on the board when asked a few years back, unsure he was fit for it as an NFL player. But the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on the Black community and an encouraging conversation with Patriots president Jonathan Kraft, chair of the board at Massachusetts General Hospital, motivated him to serve.
“The first couple of meetings I was a part of I saw right away that you talk about running any type of organization, [you have] the teamwork aspect of working together, having a common goal. That’s what I’ve done for the last 12 years here in New England,” said McCourty, a team captain every season since 2011.
“I try to just use the things I’ve learned from a leadership standpoint, trying to get everybody to work collectively for that common goal. I think that’s probably been the biggest thing that I’ve brought.”
It turns out his NFL experiences with Bill Belichick and Tom Brady overlap with being on a hospital board in other ways.
“Have you played football? All we do is sit in meetings,” quipped McCourty when asked about the time commitment. “We get here at 8 a.m. I don’t leave sometimes until after 6 p.m. Only 1 or 1½ [hours] of that is practice. The rest is meetings.”
BMC is thrilled to have McCourty aboard.
“We jumped at the opportunity. Not only is he extraordinarily well-versed in sickle cell but a lot of other health care issues that are extremely important to BMC,” said Justin Williams, Boston Medical Center vice president and chief development officer.
“What Devin does at BMC is not being a cheerleader, it’s being a leader because he puts the time in.”
McCourty’s platform as a socially conscious professional athlete has helped the hospital bridge a communication and education gap in the communities of color the hospital, which straddles Roxbury and the South End, primarily serves.
Embedded in the Black community is a reflexive distrust of medicine from years of mistreatment and misleading information. Shameful episodes such as the famed Tuskegee experiment in Alabama fuel that reticence. In the 1930s, the US government recruited 600 African-American men to participate in a study under the guise of providing them free health care. Instead, they were used as untreated guinea pigs for the effects of syphilis for decades, even though penicillin was discovered as an effective treatment in 1947.
Credited as the pioneer of modern gynecology, James Marion Sims performed experiments on enslaved Black women without anesthesia, believing Black people didn’t feel pain at the same level as whites.
Sometimes the biggest battle for a provider such as BMC is simply getting patients to submit to the treatments that can help them. The COVID vaccine is an example.
“Devin recognized that there was an information gap between what we would have here in the medical center and what people in the communities have,” said Williams. “He helped in so many ways in not just being an ambassador for BMC, but he brought BMC providers to have this conversation with his teammates, teammates’ families, fans, so the education would be dispersed throughout the entirety of the communities that are following the Patriots.”
Improving access to health care and striving for greater equality in health care are longstanding missions for BMC and align with McCourty’s racial equality advocacy.
“He speaks on behalf of those who don’t have a voice,” said Williams. “He gives his time, talent, and treasure to every single one of those efforts.”
When the Patriots face the Buffalo Bills on Monday night, McCourty will also lend his feet to the cause.
McCourty is repping BMC as part of the NFL’s My Cause My Cleats program. He posted his custom cleats on Instagram. The shoes pay homage to the hospital and his work fighting sickle cell.
In the past, NFL safeties were individuals who wanted to send opponents to the hospital via vicious hits. But McCourty’s aim is to improve care for anyone who lands there.
That makes him a different type of invaluable defender.