FOXBOROUGH – On Thanksgiving, there were a few Patriots players who actually did want to talk politics at the dinner table.
Devin and Jason McCourty, Duron Harmon and Matthew Slater got good news last Tuesday when the governor of Massachusetts, Charlie Baker, signed the Student Opportunity Act into law. It is a long-debated bill that will award $1.5 billion to the public education system intended to reduce disparities between high- and low-income schools.
It’s a cause that group has been supporting for more than a year.
“It shows that we really do have the power to create change,” Harmon said. “I’m not going to sit here and act like it was all us because it wasn’t, we had so many people lobbying: teachers, senators, governors. But to see it come to fruition is just amazing.”
In March, the McCourtys, Harmon and Slater went to the State House to testify in support of additional funding for education in front of the State Legislature’s Joint Committee on Education. They all spoke about wanting opportunity for their own kids, wondering what kind of opportunities they would have if they weren’t the children of NFL players, and their belief in the importance of an even playing field.
In July of 2018, that group published an op-ed urging Massachusetts politicians to adopt the recommendations of an independent study that found a budget shortfall in the state’s school system that was disproportionately impacting low-income students. It’s been more than a year since then and different iterations of the bill moved forward, then stalled, then were revisited in the normal-if-painstaking machinations of a political process the players were getting used to.
Last spring, Jason McCourty said it was more nerve-wracking testifying in front of the committee than it was playing in the Super Bowl. Just last week, Devin McCourty was thrilled the bill had passed through the House and Senate, but still felt as if it wasn’t time to celebrate because they didn’t know when, or even if, the governor would sign the bill.
“A lot of times when you get involved with something like that the end result isn’t what you want it to be,’’ Slater said. “You look at legislation, any number of things can happen when trying to get a bill passed. It can never be passed, it can not be passed in our lifetime, it can take 12, 20, 25 years. So I think it was a pretty unique situation for us to be involved in and then within two years of us getting ourselves plugged into it having a big change like that happen, so we realize how unique that was and it was pretty awesome to be part of.”
For the group, all of whom are involved in the Players Coalition, the best part of the outcome is what they believe it will do for students in Massachusetts. A secondary benefit, though, is that it proves that athletes who get involved in political processes can be successful and will hopefully convince more of their peers in sports to do so.
“I’m completely humbled that I was able to be part of it, and that’s something I’m going to be able to look back on when I’m older,” Harmon said. “Playing football is going to be great but if I can tell my kids I was able to help lobby to get high schools and schools that didn’t have the proper funding $1.5 billion? It’s amazing. That’s one of the greatest accomplishments that I’ve ever been a part of in my life.”