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Devin McCourty is making winning plays for Patriots and Players Coalition

‘You can be out there in the community trying to improve lives … and you can still do your job. It doesn’t have to be one or the other.’

ATLANTA — Amid the chaos of the visitors locker room at Arrowhead Stadium last week, with the New England Patriots scurrying to depart Kansas City, Missouri, after defeating the Chiefs in overtime of the AFC Championship Game, Pro Bowl safety Devin McCourty remained focused. The team’s media relations staff needed McCourty for a group interview, teammates asked him questions about the Super Bowl preparations ahead and McCourty barely had space to dress — or think, for that matter — while navigating luggage and eager television cameramen.

But McCourty handled it all with aplomb, providing what everyone who sought something from him wanted while displaying the leadership skills that have helped him maintain his long-standing position atop the Patriots’ depth chart.

As the Patriots, who will extend their own record with an 11th Super Bowl appearance, await the NFC champion Los Angeles Rams on Sunday, they know they can count on the steady McCourty. Over the past season, the Players Coalition has equally benefited from McCourty’s dependability.

The NFL’s partner in an unprecedented deal to help spur social justice, the coalition has tackled issues important to communities of color, especially criminal justice reform. To hear coalition leaders tell it, McCourty has been as effective in handling whatever the group has tasked him with as he is at executing his assignments for the Patriots.

New England Patriots free safety Devin McCourty faces reporters in the team’s locker room after practice Dec. 20 in Foxborough, Massachusetts.

AP Photo/Steven Senne

One of the Patriots’ six captains, McCourty has done some of his best work while teaming with Patriots owner Robert Kraft, pushing political leaders to address things that the NFL and the coalition deem important. And McCourty has backed up his strong words by putting in time in the community.

Anquan Boldin isn’t surprised. The co-founder of the coalition, Boldin quickly surmised that McCourty would get things done off the field too.

“When it comes to the Players Coalition, he’s been pivotal,” Boldin said on the phone. “He’s an asset in everything we’re doing in the coalition. And in Massachusetts, he has pretty much been our lead guy there. Him working alongside Robert Kraft … he just has been great. It’s about the effort we’re all putting to try get results — and you see the results.”

On the issue of juvenile justice reform, McCourty has been out front.

Before the season, he was among the coalition members who successfully lobbied lawmakers in Massachusetts to raise the age at which children can be charged in juvenile court from 7 to 12. In April, the state’s governor signed sweeping reform legislation that also prevents defendants who have not gone to trial from being held merely because they can’t afford bail. The bill also permits criminal records to be expunged for some offenses committed by those under 21.

Whether on or off the field, victory is always fulfilling, McCourty said.

“We’re making changes,” said McCourty, flanked by his twin brother, Jason, a backup cornerback for the Patriots. “And when you see that change is happening, that people who have struggled because of problems with the system can actually have a chance to improve [their lives], you definitely feel good about what you’re trying to do to make a difference.”

Although the victories make the sting of defeats less painful, they still hurt nonetheless.

McCourty also spearheaded the coalition’s efforts to back a Massachusetts education funding bill that would have provided schools in low-income areas throughout the state with additional resources for, among other things, counseling, teachers and computers. State legislators failed to reach an agreement.

“Well, we knew it wasn’t going to be easy,” he said. “When we all came together, we knew that these issues are important to us and that things had to change.

“But you know change isn’t going to happen overnight. You’re never going to always get what you want. It’s really a process. But the process can’t happen without the work.”

Devin McCourty of the New England Patriots reacts after recovering a fumble during the second quarter of a game against the New York Jets at Gillette Stadium on Dec. 30 in Foxborough, Massachusetts.

Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

As McCourty’s Patriots teammates and coaches can attest, his work ethic is second to none.

The Patriots nailed it on McCourty, selecting him in the first round of the 2010 draft (No. 27 overall) out of Rutgers. A starter from the start, McCourty, now in his ninth season, has missed only five regular-season games in his career.

From his position at safety, McCourty has anchored New England’s secondary, helping the team win two of its five Super Bowl titles. McCourty has had another strong season while also delivering on his commitment to the coalition, which proves a point, he said.

“What it shows is that you can do both,” said McCourty, who is making his fifth Super Bowl appearance. “You can be out there in the community trying to improve lives, trying to deal with these issues that need to be dealt with, and you can still do your job. It doesn’t have to be one or the other.

“You hear people say, ‘Well, these guys aren’t doing what they need to do for their teams because they’re doing so many other things off the field.’ But it’s just not true. All you have to do is look at the Super Bowl the last two seasons to see that.”

In last season’s Super Bowl, the Philadelphia Eagles defeated the Patriots. The Eagles, led by coalition co-founder Malcolm Jenkins, are among the most socially conscious teams in professional sports. Besides Jenkins and McCourty, Eagles defensive end Chris Long and former Eagles wide receiver Torrey Smith were other coalition members who played in the Super Bowl.

That kind of shoots down the whole they-should-just-stay-in-their-lane-because-they’re-hurting-their-teams argument, McCourty said. Being on the game’s biggest stage is also great for coalition members because “with the platform of the Super Bowl, we get to push everything a little bit more. The more we can get our message out, the bigger the spotlight we can shine on things that are going wrong, the more opportunities we’ll have to create change for people who are being taken advantage of out here.

“That’s been the focus of the coalition from day one. That’s what Q [Boldin] and Malc [Jenkins] and all of the guys have wanted to accomplish. And, again, we see change is happening. We see the character of the men we have working together, which speaks volumes about the type of men we have. You’re proud to be part of this. You’re proud of what guys have done and you feel good about what’s ahead. But you also know we’re nowhere close to where we want to be right now. There are people out here hurting.”

Despite McCourty’s excitement about playing in yet another Super Bowl, his thoughts never stray from his other important work. It’s really just a matter of maintaining one’s focus.

Jason Reid is the senior NFL writer at Andscape. He enjoys watching sports, especially any games involving his son and daughter.