It was 2016, and controversial connections between then-presidential candidate Donald Trump and high-profile members of the New England Patriots were going public.
Star quarterback Tom Brady admitted to having a red cap inscribed with "Make America Great Again" — the Trump campaign slogan. There was the letter head coach Bill Belichick wrote to Trump congratulating him for securing the GOP nomination. And team owner and CEO Robert Kraft wrote to The Boston Globe about his longtime friendship with the former president, who's been indicted four times for criminal charges this year.
These were incidents former Patriots captain Devin McCourty worried could influence public perception of the Patriots as a whole because "we just got all lumped into one" whether or not other players shared the same views, he told Radio Boston on Tuesday.
"I remember in that moment, I thought it was very important for us as players to identify what we believed in," McCourty said at a time when the team agreed to focus its public comments on the game.
The Patriots support reduced criminal sentence of Mass. man
The perfect opportunity to clarify his values presented itself in the form of the ACLU-led campaign to commute the sentence of William Allen. In 1994, Allen was convicted to life in prison for being an accomplice in a robbery that led to the murder of Purvis Bester in Brockton. Under a 2017 law change by the Supreme Judicial Court, Allen's actions would have resulted in a lesser sentence.
McCourty took up the cause to reduce Allen's sentence with gusto, and even convinced other Patriots' players, the team's owner and head coach to write letters to the state in support of the commutation. McCourty credits the support he received from the team to the locker room culture in which "we all have so much respect for each other because we see each other come in, whether it's through great trials and great triumphs ... every single day."
"I tell people all the time, it's one of the greatest team wins I had ever been a part of," McCourty said.
For his advocacy around Allen's case and his other public service work in education and economic justice, McCourty will receive the Embracing the Legacy Award from the Robert F. Kennedy Community Alliance in November.
The team's commitment to player safety
The Patriots have also cemented its reputation in other public ways.
Most recently it demonstrated its commitment to player safety when Belichick canceled Saturday's preseason game against the Green Bay Packers in the fourth quarter after rookie cornerback Isaiah Bolden hit his head against a fellow teammate. The injury appeared to leave Bolden immobile in the moments immediately after the collision and required that he be carted off the field.
According to McCourty, this isn't the first time Belichick was willing to lose a game to prioritize the health of his players. In 2020, as the NFL announced it would proceed with its regular season without implementing the more cautious measures taken in other professional sports leagues, McCourty said Belichick was primed to forfeit a game against the Denver Broncos.
"We had talks of not playing in the game if that's what was going to keep our team safe," McCourty said. He recalls Belichick saying "I don't care what the rules are ... I care about the safety of this football team."
"When it comes to Coach Belichick, he doesn't get enough credit for the character he has and the respect he has for the men who dress up and decide to go out there and play football," McCourty said.
While many recognize Belichick as the second most winningest coach in NFL history, it's this side of his former coach that McCourty, who retired earlier this year, admires after 13 years with the Patriots.
This segment aired on August 22, 2023.