Every Sunday during the fall, NFL defensive backs Devin and Jason McCourty review their game plans, strap on pads and helmets, and prepare for a grueling three-hour battle. The twins understand that this mentality is what the thousands of patients suffering from sickle cell disease must have every day as they cope with deadly condition.
"A lot of people don't understand that this disease affects almost 100,000 people in the United States, and it's just not talked about," said Devin, a 2010 first-round pick of the Patriots. "That is our goal with the NFL, our name, the PSA and everyone that helps to create that awareness. There are a lot of people going through this."
For Devin and twin brother Jason, who plays for the Titans, the campaign is personal. They have partnered with Embrace Kids Foundation and Novartis to spread the word on their Tackle Sickle Cell Campaign, because they became aware of it at a young age.
Their father carried the trait, so the twins were tested to see if they had it as well. Fortunately for them, they do not. But after their father passed, the two grew close to their aunt and uncle who do have the disease. Seeing sickle cell disease affect people so close to them, especially their aunt, ignites their passion for their campaign.
"As a kid she went to the hospital and the doctor told her that she wouldn't live to see 35 and she's now 64," Jason said. "Just to watch her continue to fight for her life every day and battle has inspired us to use our platform and give back.
"It hasn't been easy she's definitely had her ups and downs. When you talk to her and see and see how much she goes through because of a disease she was born with and how she continues to fight it's an awesome thing to see. Nothing we do seems hard when you see what she's going through."
According to the National Institute of Health, sickle cell disease "is estimated to occur in 1 in 500 African Americans and 1 in 1,000 to 1,400 Hispanic Americans."
For the past two years the McCourty twins have been hosting a number of events to spread the word about sickle cell, including blood drives, a casino night, and a 5k walk/run. In September, the twins will air their Public Service Announcement (PSA) to kick-start Sickle Cell Awareness Month.
"We want people to get a game plan together," Jason said. "As athletes we have a playbook and a game plan always preparing and anticipating. We want to make sure patients suffering from the disease do the same thing and sit down with their doctors, develop a game plan and stick to it, so that they can do all they can do to stay healthy."
The twins have no plans of slowing down. Last year the campaign raised $60,000 with $40,000 going toward scholarships and the rest to research. Jason is currently working with Vanderbilt University and Devin with Boston Children's Hospital to expand the campaign.
"The NFL has given us a platform," Devin said. "Our goal right now is to use this platform for as long as we can to try to get as many people on board, and get Sickle Cell Awareness out there."
To learn more about the McCourty twins' work, go to the Tackle Sickle Cell Campaign website.