Patriots Devin McCourty, Jason McCourty and Matthew Slater are no strangers to studying. They study the playbook and film constantly, but this week, they were doing a different kind of studying.
Instead of their typical preparations for football, Devin, Jason and Matthew were reading up on issues of criminal justice facing Suffolk County, and though this reading has become a regular occurrence over the past year or so, their role on Tuesday night was certainly new.
Ahead of September's primary election, the Patriots moderated a debate between five of the six candidates for Suffolk County's district attorney race. The night was in conjunction with the Players Coalition and just another way Devin, Jason and Matthew have stepped up this offseason to talk about criminal justice reform.
While some maintain that athletes should stick to sports, Devin quickly put that idea to rest minutes before the debate began.
"I think people tell us we're football players as if we're not people and citizens. I don't think you're one without the other," he said. "Someday we won't be football players and we'll be sitting in the stands going to see whatever it is that's going on at the time. I think for all of us, we've never worried about that and even trying to make a statement. We're just being who we are."
And in the auditorium of a Dorchester middle school, who they are was on full display.
Devin, Jason and Matthew questioned Evandro Carvalho, Linda Champion, Michael Maloney, Shannon McAuliffe and Rachael Rollins on mandatory minimums, discriminatory policing, the war on drugs and mass incarceration rates among people of color. With a packed house of passionate citizens, the Patriots facilitated a conversation with the intent to educate voters across Suffolk County.
"I hope [the people in attendance] get a better understanding of the role of district attorney," Matthew said. "I hope they learn the candidates and they can go to the polls and be educated. We're not trying to sway them one way or another. We want them to just be informed and educated so they can go to the polls and feel confident about the decisions that they make."
The debate questions covered a variety of topics, and while Devin and his teammates have lobbied for youth criminal justice reform, he understands that overall reform is much bigger than one area of change. To get comprehensive and progressive reform, he said, it will be a continued effort, which is why nights like this one are so important.
"I don't think there's one thing. I think that's what I've learned most from the experts is you can't just name one thing and think if that gets fixed everything is going to be great," Devin said. "I think it's a continuing process of things improving, like the criminal justice reform bill that's passed. That doesn't mean everything is perfect, but it's a step in the right direction."
Jason said though he is a resident of Tennessee and won't be able to vote in September's primary, he felt it was important to be a part of the conversation as an athlete in the community.
"You really don't have a say. You're not voting, but you care because this is a community you're playing football in. These are people that are watching games on Sunday that work hard every day of the week to pay for tickets to see us play," Jason said. "I think it's important for us as members of those teams to show you care too. You care about what's going on in these communities."
Tuesday's debate was part of the Players Coalition's Launching Justice initiative. Duron Harmon also attended in support of his teammates.