Sometime in the last few weeks, Devin McCourty saw Patriots chairman and CEO Robert Kraft and asked him to chat.
The New England safety, a longtime advocate for those suffering from sickle cell anemia, had learned of some advancements in treating the disease and wanted to share the developments with Kraft.
"Me too," Kraft said, according to McCourty. "We have something big coming."
Little did McCourty know, something "big" meant a $50 million donation to Massachusetts General Hospital to continue fighting healthcare disparities caused by race, ethnicity, geography, and economic status. That attempt to close the healthcare equity gap includes funding research into sickle cell, a blood disease that primarily impacts Black men and women and a cause close to McCourty's heart.
"He said we had a pretty cool announcement coming out, so to see $50 million – that changes people's lives," McCourty said. "The impact of that will be seen not only now but for generations because that will save lives."
A gift so substantial is unprecedented among donations MGH has ever received, and is the largest amount given by the owner of a sports franchise to address racial disparities in the healthcare system.
It will fund a permanent diversity, equity, and inclusion chair position at the hospital with hopes that the effort will be replicated nationwide.
"I think the coolest thing about Mr. Kraft is he doesn't want to just get involved with things. He wants to be a leader," McCourty said. "He wants to be a part of a solution and doesn't really hesitate to do so. Whether it's the Reform Alliance or this, he's always on the forefront."
McCourty and his twin brother, Jason, have been raising awareness and money for sickle cell for years.
The twins watched family members suffer from the disease, but studies into sickle cell have traditionally been underfunded, despite its prevalence. An estimated one in 365 Black Americans are born with sickle cell disease – with even more carrying the trait – and it's among the leading causes of sudden death within sports.
The McCourtys have used their platform to help families in similar situations with their charity, Tackle Sickle Cell, and Kraft has always supported that. This donation takes that to another level.
"Just to see the conversations we've had over time and (Kraft) supporting our events -- sickle cell wasn't a very popular disease, a lot of people didn't realize the impact that had on people's lives -- and I think some of the work we've done has highlighted that," McCourty said. "Sickle cell really falls right into healthcare equity. To be able to donate that kind of money to try to get good health care for all individuals is huge."
For McCourty, it feels like things have come full circle, and Kraft's donation comes right before his own charity event, the McCourty Bowl, on Oct. 17.
In addition to funding the Robert K. Kraft Endowed Chair in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion -- which will be held by the medical director of the Comprehensive Sickle Cell Disease Treatment Center at MGH -- the donation will also further endow the Kraft Center for Community Health, established in 2011, and fund expansion efforts at the Mass General Blood Donor Center, which will be renamed to honor the Kraft family.
"I am proud to live in a city that is home to what I consider the greatest hospitals in the world, led by Mass General," Kraft said in his statement. "Yet, I've always been troubled by healthcare inequities, as I know there are many in nearby communities who don't have the healthcare and can't access the excellent care others receive here."
That knowledge comes from conversations with people of different backgrounds and understanding that not everyone has access to the same resources.
Diverse perspectives have always been sought out by Kraft, but McCourty knows how unique it is to have that relationship with a team owner.
"He comes here all the time," McCourty said. "He spends time here because he gets to learn about different people, how they grew up, how they see the world. I think he's a true ambassador for change. He's done it in so many different walks of life. It's really amazing when you kind of take a step back and just look at his impact. People will be talking about not only what he's done with the Patriots, but around the world, for a very long time."