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Devin McCourty, Matthew Slater have heartfelt reactions to Bill Russell’s death

McCourty, Slater share heartfelt reflections on Bill Russell’s legacy originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

Bill Russell’s impact went well beyond the Boston Celtics and the sport of basketball.

His lifelong pursuit of racial equality and social justice, and the challenges he faced in fighting for them, have inspired many people to push for change.

Russell died Sunday at the age of 88. The news sparked an outpouring of tributes and great stories from Russell’s time as a Hall of Fame athlete and a civil rights icon.

Forsberg: Bill Russell set the standard for Celtics basketball

Athletes from all different sports have shared what Russell meant to them, including two New England Patriots captains — Matthew Slater and Devin McCourty.

“It’s really hard to put into words I think what a man like Bill Russell has not only obviously meant to this city but has meant to professional sports, has meant to Black athletes and just the progress that we’ve seen in this country over the last 60 years or so,” Slater said Monday after the Patriots’ training camp practice at Gillette Stadium.

“When I think of Bill Russell, I don’t think of necessarily the championships or the Celtics and the winning — which I think is a legacy that speaks for itself. I think of what he did for Black athletes, and I’m a beneficiary of the actions of men and women like Bill Russell, who were willing to step out on a limb and advocate for Black athletes and Black Americans and really push for change and push for equality. I can’t imagine having to have gone through some of the things he had to go through, especially early on in his life and career.”

McCourty has always admired Russell for his willingness to seek change and the positive impact he’s had on Black athletes in Boston and everywhere else.

“Just his willingness and vulnerability to be very open about what he went through and wanted to change,” McCourty said after Monday’s practice.

“I think as an athlete and player in this area, I drew a lot of inspiration and motivation from how he viewed things. I think the road that he paved for Black athletes to be able to be successful in this city and in sports in general . . . I think all of us here strive to be like Bill Russell.”