FOXBORO — Fair or not, the McCourty twins are often sought out for answers when the topic shifts from football to social justice and racial equality.
They've embraced that role for years, and they did so again on Thursday as they spoke to reporters via WebEx conference call. They acknowledged, though, that answers have been hard to come by lately.
In the wake of Jacob Blake being shot by police in Kenosha, Wis., after learning a teenager killed two protesters there and was later peacefully arrested in Illinois, both Devin and Jason McCourty described feeling a sense of hopelessness.
The NBA postponed its postseason. NFL teams canceled practices. But what would it do, the McCourtys wondered, to cancel a practice in Foxboro only to hold practice the next day? The Patriots did hold practice Thursday morning.
"I feel like right now, myself, and I know a lot of other guys I’ve talked to in the locker room right now, we’re just lost, man," Jason McCourty said. "It’s almost like a sense of hopelessness. In March, we had a team discussion via WebEx, and we all talked about it. And here we are months later, and we’re talking about the same exact thing.
"And it’s like, all right, do we cancel practice? But if we cancel practice today on Thursday, do we cancel practice tomorrow on Friday? What’s gonna get us to go out and practice the next day? We cancel practice today, we sit around, we discuss race, we discuss what happened to Jacob Blake, we talk about what’s continued to happen in our country for hundreds of years, but then we go out and practice tomorrow. Nobody cares. I think for us, right now, we’re trying to figure it out . . .
I think for us as players, we’re lost. We don’t know why we’re practicing. We don’t know why we would not practice. We don’t know why we’d be preparing for games. We don’t know why we wouldn’t. We’re completely lost as Americans. We have no idea what’s the way to go. We saw last night, NBA players not play. You hear reports now that two of the teams don’t want to play and the rest of the teams do. We’re all lost. We have no idea what’s the right move. What can I possibly do to change a system that’s been in place for so many years?
Devin McCourty, who has missed the last two Patriots practices for an undisclosed reason, expressed similar sentiments.
"I’ve been thinking a lot the last couple of days," he said. "I’ve had so many different emotions of being angry, being sad. A lot of it has really been what I try to talk to a lot of kids about. I’ve felt very hopeless. I don’t have a statement. I don’t have anything powerful. It’s just been very disheartening. Just watching things transpire, watching lives still be lost and it’s not just police brutality. It’s everything we deal with . . . I’ve just felt very hopeless the last couple of days."
The Patriots did not have formal discussions about canceling Thursday's workout or future practices, but Jason McCourty explained that teammates discussed their feelings among themselves. There was a plan, according to Jason McCourty, for the Patriots to have more formal discussions following Thursday's practice.
"We’ve done that in the past and we plan on doing that," he said. "I don’t know. I talked to Duron [Harmon], I know they did that in Detroit, and they kind of started it. And I thought what they did was awesome. Does it fix anything? When we cancel practice and we sit down and we meet and we talk, does it change anything? When we stay inside for the national anthem, and then we go out there and we play in the game for four quarters and we entertain everybody, does it change anything?
"And I think that’s what I’m struggling with. We cancel practice and we sit down and talk — does Thursday practice just move to Friday? Does everybody write a story on Thursday that the Patriots canceled practice, and then tomorrow the headline is, ‘Cam Newton Thrills At Practice’? And then we just go on and we talk about what happened that day: who’s out, who’s injured, who came back, who had an interception, who broke off a nice run. It just moves forward. And it’s just like, 'Yeah, that was awesome, they canceled practice, they did something. Oh, but they came out to practice the next day and that’s what we’re going to write about and that’s what we’re going to discuss.' "
Jason McCourty dug deeper into the coverage of the recent social justice movement and how athletes factor in.
He recalled earlier this offseason when Devin McCourty spoke to reporters, not taking questions, but instead making a series of statements on non-football issues that he felt needed to be addressed. At the end, McCourty criticized the NFL's opt-out policy, which had a hard deadline for players to make their decisions.
"I went on Twitter after that," Jason McCourty said, "and the thing I saw most was ‘Devin McCourty bashes the NFL and the opt-out date.’ Nothing said, ‘Devin McCourty addresses Breonna Taylor. Devin McCourty talks about equal rights for everyone. Devin McCourty talks about voting.’ It wasn’t about that. It was about the NFL.
"And I feel like when you see players on the Lakers and the Clippers who have said, 'Hey, we don’t think we should play this game. And they’re trying to get the attention. But then I read something from Draymond Green and it was just like, as athletes we always feel the need that we need to stop playing to make change. But at the end of the day we play a sport that’s also a business. And how many other businesses do you see being shut down right now? Do you see the CEO of Apple or YouTube or Google saying, ‘Hey, we’re shutting down. We’re boycotting going to work. We’re not gonna do this anymore.’
So it’s a struggle. Because there are moments I feel like, man, screw this. I’m not going out there to entertain anyone when I feel the way I feel. And is that the right thing? Does that do anything? Is that fair? And it’s just, it’s been a ridiculous struggle.
It's unclear how the Patriots will move forward. Will workouts be canceled? Will there be a statement from the team? Will there be further action pledged by players, coaches and ownership to pursue change?
"Honestly, I haven’t even thought of any team aspect," Devin McCourty said. "As an individual, like, I haven’t been able to come to grips with anything, let alone be a voice to guys on what we should or shouldn’t do. I don’t have that answer. I haven’t tried to be the guy in front or anything. I’ve been trying to handle things from an individual standpoint trying to understand.
"I’ve talked to guys separately or just about how I feel and trying to gauge how they feel and trying to make sense, but it’s been hard for me individually to even try to say, ‘Man, we should do this or we should do that.’ I’ve been involved and been a guy that says, ‘This is important. Guys, let's do this.’ Right now, I don’t know if I tell a young rookie, ‘We don’t need to practice because we need to.' I don’t have that answer. I don’t know what to tell a young rookie — Black, white — I don’t care about that.
"I don’t know what to tell them what we need to do next as a team, to help different Black and brown communities that are struggling. Whether it’s police brutality, whether it’s education, whether it’s healthcare — I don’t have those answers to help those people. I don’t want to do something just to do it because everybody else is doing it. I'm still searching within myself for that."
Back in June, the Kraft family announced that it pledged $1 million to local grassroots organizations, chosen in collaboration with players, that are fighting for equity, working to end systemic racism, and creating meaningful change in the community. Organizations chosen will be invited to Foxboro to educate executives within the Patriots organization.
Could owners across the NFL do more, Devin McCourty was asked?
"I don’t know if that would be the change that is needed," he said. "For NFL owners to get more involved, I think it would be awesome. I think if we had that across the league — I know here in New England I have had plenty of conversations with Mr. Kraft about different things. I don’t know. Would it help people to see Mr. Kraft jumping in front of a camera and say how he feels about the things in Wisconsin? Would that cure all the things that are going on in our country? Would that help the different people in Wisconsin walking around with guns? Because in my eyes when I watch that, that is pretty threatening to see someone walking around with a loaded gun. But, for some people in Wisconsin, that is not threatening at all. How do we change that?
How do we get people to understand the difference of being a Black person and being a white man — a Black man and a white man? Why can they be seen as equal walking down the street? If one has a gun, that could be threatening, but the one who doesn’t have a gun if he is Black might be more threatening to someone. I don’t know if having ownership behind us makes that voice louder.
"I think we are at the point in our country where we’ve had the most awareness that we’ve ever had. You’re talking about 2020 with social media and all the different outlets over the last couple of months — people have been talking about this non-stop. I don’t know. I couldn’t give you a straight answer. If we all boycott Week 1, will that solve the problem? I don’t know because does it matter if all come back to play Week 2. I think everything should be on the table. I am not saying that those aren’t solutions.
"It’s just hard. It’s just hard right now. I have got the opportunity to be around a lot of smart people, and I will continue to lean on them and always try and brainstorm with a lot of different individuals."