The Walter Payton Man of the Year Award is one of the most prestigious NFL honors.

It’s given to a player who shows outstanding contributions off the field, through philanthropy and community impact.

Devin McCourty, one of the New England Patriots’ team captains, is a nominee for the award. He’s an inspiration to so many, but there is someone very special in his life who inspires him.

“Every time I step on the field and I’m having a tough day, I just ask for her strength,” he said.

Devin McCourty’s aunt Winnie’s strength stretches beyond any field.

“When she was young, the doctor told her she’d be lucky to live to 35,” he said.

Winnie was diagnosed with sickle cell anemia, a genetic condition where the body’s red blood cells are deformed, causing pain, organ damage, or stroke. There is no cure.

“She’s legally blind in both her eyes, you know, she has to have an oxygen tank on 24/7. She’s probably the toughest person, you know, her and my mother, that I’ve ever been able to be around. Now she’s 64 years old and she’s still living strong,” McCourty said.

McCourty and his twin brother, Jason, are determined to “Tackle Sickle Cell.”

As NFL players, they’re developing a game plan devoted to raising awareness and finding a cure.

“I don’t think she realized how much we looked up to her and saw her struggling and was inspired just by what she went through,” McCourty said.

Since establishing “Tackle Sickle Cell,” the McCourtys have partnered with the Embrace Kids Foundation, and held blood drives, numerous fundraisers, and a 5K in their hometown.

“To see people, walk or run for a team, for an individual, you know that’s an inspiration to us,” McCourty said. “As athletes, we’re so used to leaning on other people – our family members, teammates – for support. To be that support system for someone else that started off as a stranger and now you really consider a friend, it gives you a feeling that football can never really give you.”

A feeling where victory is more than an outcome – it’s a hope. It’s a difference, all because of their most valuable teammate, Winnie.

“She doesn’t have someone, or 50-60,000 fans that come out and watch her every day. No one watches her do that. She battles for herself and for her family. So I just want to tell her, she’s truly one of our heroes,” McCourty said.

If you’d like to be a part of the McCourtys’ fight, go to, where you can donate.

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