Hundreds of strangers who showed up to Devin and Jason McCourty's annual Tackle Sickle Cell Casino Night kindly giving money and their time to a great cause, but there were more familiar faces in the crowd than one might originally expect. Through their advocacy and their warm dispositions, Devin and Jason have turned strangers into friends, including Brunel Etienne Jr.
When Brunel arrived at the event with his mother, the McCourtys welcomed him as warmly as their Patriots teammates.
"I’m always talking to him. He’s become a friend of mine, all from a hospital visit," Devin said. "Now, that’s what this event is about."
This interaction serves as a symbol of just what the McCourtys have managed to do in regards to sickle cell disease awareness. They aren't just names and faces tied to a cause they don't know anything about. For them, it's personal.
It started with their own family. Their grandfather, aunt and uncle all lived with the disorder, and as Devin and Jason have become advocates for those living with sickle cell disease, their "family" has grown. The relationships they have built with a shared understanding are deep and personal.
"I think to now be a part of it for so many years, I feel like we know different people, we’ve met so many families that it’s gone beyond our family," Devin said. "I feel like we have a ton of extended family of patients, of hard working people who want to make a difference, whether it’s Boston Medical Center, Next Step, it’s just been awesome to be a part of it."
As always, the Patriots supported their fellow teammates. Devin and Jason were joined by their teammates, including Jamie Collins, David Andrews, Duron Harmon, Kyle Van Noy, Deatrich Wise Jr., Jonathan Jones, Lawrence Guy, Phillip Dorsett, Ja'Whaun Bentley, N'Keal Harry, Joejuan Williams, Damien Harris, Shilique Calhoun and more.
Ja'Whaun, who is in his second year in the NFL, said that supporting his teammates off the field is crucial.
"We want to try and make our footprint as big as we can in the community or worldwide. We just want to make it as big as possible," Ja'Whaun said of supporting one another's causes.
And as for Devin and Jason, Ja'Whaun was succinct in what they mean.
"They’re the perfect role models, honestly," he said. "On and off the field, they’re always doing things the right way, so anything I can kind of take from them and bring it to what I want to do is always great."
Though Devin and Jason said, in unison, that being called a role model is "a nice way to say we're old," they know it is part of the job as NFL players who want their legacy to extend beyond the football field.
"When we came in, there were guys ahead of us that were doing things in the community and being staples in that area. I think for us, you watch other people doing it, and as you get older, you said, 'Hey, I want to do those things,'" Jason said. "I think now we’re doing it, and we want to pass that on for the Ja’Whaun Bentleys and the next guys. We will probably be older by that point, coming back to attend some of those guys' events."