The NFL offseason is in full swing, but Devin McCourty is still hard at work. Of course, this includes physical training for the season, but with McCourty work doesn't just mean his day job.
On June 30, McCourty joined a town hall event, hosted by the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, in partnership with the Players Coalition, about incarceration and the justice system in Massachusetts. The panel was yet another opportunity for McCourty to shine a light on topics he's entrenched himself in over his time in the league. He and his teammates have hosted debates for local elections, spoken at the state house and visited with people directly impacted by the justice system.
While speaking alongside people like Massachusetts state Representative Liz Miranda, state Senator Adam Hinds, The Sentencing Project's Keeda Haynes and Vice Chair of the African American Coalition Committee in MCI-Norfolk Corey 'Al-Ameen' Patterson, McCourty doubled down on his role in the fight for change.
"I work with a lot of different organizations that do a lot of the groundwork, and I think that was one of the biggest things we've learned as we got into this space. We didn't need to reinvent the wheel," McCourty said. "We didn't need to create our own things because, as you can see on this panel tonight, there's already amazing people doing the work. I think the biggest thing we've done is lend our voice to people already doing the work to show support to them in a lot of different ways."
McCourty makes no qualms about his level of expertise in these often incredibly dense areas. As a Patriots captain and a three-time Super Bowl champion, he can reach audiences that might not typically seek out information about issues like voter suppression. Amplification and education are roles in and of themselves.
The panel largely focused on Bill H.836, backed by Sen. Hinds and Rep. Miranda, which would restore the right for people convicted of felonies to vote in Massachusetts. The Commonwealth was formerly one of few states to allow people convicted of felonies to vote, but according to WGBH, when people moved to form a political action committee to educate others about issues directly impacting their lives and the lives of their families, Governor Paul Cellucci pushed for a change. The question was put on the ballot that year, and the right to vote for people convicted of felonies was revoked.
While there is a push for an amendment to the state constitution, incarcerated people not convicted of a felony are able to vote in Massachusetts. Many, however, don't know that they have the right.
"In Massachusetts, we have a really big problem. About 8,000 to 10,000 people who are incarcerated here actually don't know that they're able to vote," Rep. Miranda said. "The folks who are incarcerating them are meant to provide the information about the election. They're not participating."
The United States has the highest rates of incarceration in the world, and according to the Sentencing Project, Black men are six times as likely to be incarcerated as white men. Latinx men are two and a half times as likely. This disparity means people of color are disproportionally impacted and removed from the democratic process.
Most people on the panel knew someone impacted by the justice system or had been directly impacted themselves. Laws like this, they said, remove humanity and the most basic pillar of democracy from those who are incarcerated. McCourty said he grew up with family members who were incarcerated. In conversations about reform, humanity is often lost. That's something he's been actively working to shine a light on.
"I think when people understand that we're not just talking about giving voter rights for someone who's incarcerated," McCourty said. "We're talking about an actual person – a father or a brother or a sister or a mother. I think that's why it's important to garner that momentum to bring that to people straight ahead and don't try and sugarcoat it."
On that front, McCourty stressed to all who tuned in that advocacy never stops. If bills fail or things don't go the way one may have been hoping, that is when it's most important to keep pushing.
"It's always important, whether it's athletes who entertain or anyone who has a platform in that area to continue to use their voice to continue to try to stay connected with the people you've helped out that obviously know more about it," McCourty said. "Continue to put that pressure on and let people know that, hey, we're still going to be here. We're still going to be talking to communities."