Jason Heyward and Chicago Cubs Set an Example on Astounding Night of Protest

Gabe Zaldivar

Everything is on the table, America. Shut down the seasons, protest, speak up. Whatever we can do to address real pain felt by Americans then it should be considered.

But for the moment, let’s just listen.

I had a fantastic talk with Jason Heyward recently. It went over a great many things, his recent investment and work with Turn2 Equity Partners, a collaboration that is both uplifting and empowering not only for Heyward but other baseball players that can benefit from things that will come shortly.

We talked about his life as a professional baseball player. His opinion on the entertaining spark coming from a youth movement headlined by Fernando Tatis Jr. We even talked puppies. It was a revelatory and inspiring discussion. And we will get to that very soon, I promise.

But it’s hard for me to hit publish on that story when it’s more pertinent to talk about pain and loss and protest. It’s about this moment. It’s about Wednesday night.

He remains one of relatively few African-American players in one of America’s most beloved sports. And on Wednesday, the sports world again paused.

Heyward spoke to me for our interview on Aug. 13. On Wednesday, Aug. 26, American sports stopped. This time it wasn’t because of a global pandemic, still very much raging across this nation. It was because another Black man had his life altered at the hands of police officials.

Our discussion obviously didn’t include any mention of Jacob Blake, a Black man from Kenosha, Wisc. who was left paralyzed after an officer involved shooting.

But it did touch a great deal on race, that subject always just in the background of our national discourse, has been thrust to the forefront, standing defiantly next to a coronavirus outbreak as topics this country must consider on a daily basis.

On Wednesday, Heyward joined NBA teams and other athletes in preferring not to play his sport, sitting it out in protest, in anguish, in emotional exhaustion.

An Instagram post of Heyward sporting a Black Lives Matter shirt is all we saw of him until later in the night.

Heyward addressed his decision to sit out Wednesday’s game against the Tigers, an eventual 7-6 loss in Detroit.

“There were multiple guys saying they weren’t comfortable going out there and playing if I wasn’t going to go out there,” Heyward told media on Wednesday night. “They didn’t want to leave me hanging. I let them know, encouraged them, you know, go play the game. I don’t think the game should be canceled but I think I have to do what I have to do.”

He joined Dexter Fowler, Jack Flaherty, Matt Kemp and the players on the Mariners, Padres, Dodgers and Giants, all of whom postponed their games.

The Mets’ Dominic Smith, tears in his eyes, said on Wednesday, “I think the most difficult part is to see people still don't care. … Being a Black man in America is not easy."

Dodgers star Mookie Betts decided to sit out Wednesday, a decision that prompted the entire team to protest the game.

The NBA and WNBA largely shuttered on Wednesday. But in MLB, African-American players affected on a deep personal level by the incessant and public displays of systemic racism in this country are often alone in the clubhouse.

As far as baseball is concerned, there is no question there needs to be better outreach into Black communities. The Cubs outfielder admits that there have been discussions in the locker room on this very topic.

“We've talked about a big topic of things here of late, even as a team, systemic racism or whatever you want to call it,” he said in our previous interview. “There are no baseball fields in certain areas. There are no sports facilities. There are no basketball courts or anything in certain areas.”

With that lack of access, young Black America is instead choosing sports that do offer those opportunities.

In 2019, Opening Day saw ballclubs welcome 68 African-American players to the field out of 882 players. Thats 7.7% of the game.

When it comes to the Cubs, there is no doubt in my mind that a dialogue is taking place, and it’s taking place with Heyward speaking and others listening intently.

Prior to the season, the Cubs did have an open conversation about the Black Lives Matter movement and where someone like Heyward might be coming from.

“And I just try to let [my] teammates know and everyone know that we're not saying we're the only ones, as Black people, that struggle, that go through things,” Heyward told En Fuego earlier in the month. “We're not saying everyone is perfect. But in a work environment, in the sport of baseball, you don't see a lot of us around. … I've been at my own home field and in Atlanta, I've been called ‘Boy’ by somebody because they want me to come over there and sign something for the kid.”

Heyward has discussed these types of things before, addressing the kind of environment a Black ballplayer might have to contend with that another might not.

“I played for the Atlanta Braves. I was drafted by my hometown team,” Heyward told ESPN in July. “Long story short, hometown team, drafted in the first round, and playing for the Rome Braves in Savannah, Georgia—against the Mets, that was their minor league affiliate at the time—and I was talking to Freddie Freeman after the game, and he had tears in his eyes. [He said], 'Jay, did you hear the stuff people were saying to you?' I said, 'Yeah, I heard it, bro.' And he replied, 'I've never seen that before.'”

At this point, it’s not even about speaking up. I feel complicit just watching sports. The joy has been sucked out of pastimes that used to bring us all such peace.

NBA and WNBA athletes are in bubbles, isolated from their families. MLB players are risking their health, traveling around the country to play the game they love.

All the while the country smolders, the embers of hate never die, never extinguish. And so, like a horribly plotted drama, we are back at it again, attempting to figure out a problem so obvious, scrambling for a solution that remains elusive for a section of the country that is tragically large.

“The big step because in the game of baseball, it's always been, you're afraid to speak out on things like that,” Heyward said. “You're afraid to speak on anything but baseball, especially as an African-American.”

Wednesday showed that MLB is willing to listen.

Sure, teams like the Chicago Cubs played their game. But don’t get it twisted, these guys are a family.

On Wednesday, Anthony Rizzo spoke to reporters as well.

"There's things in this country that are not right right now," Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. "[If] we start acknowledging it and moving forward instead of sweeping it under the rug and moving on to the next story, that's a start."

This Cubs team is tight, largely consisting of players from previous seasons. Rizzo made the group engage in regular Zoom calls during the initial MLB shutdown and Heyward was a vocal point of contact as the team considered and talked about race and the tumult of a most chaotic year.

Heyward explained to me that the Cubs have had speakers come in to address the clubhouse specifically on these subjects. The healing starts with outstretched arms and the Cubs are a very open organization.

“I've never felt any bit of racism or anything like that in this organization,” Heyward told me.

If you are looking for a model that can help this country get to whatever is next, whatever stage the follows this era of tumult, we should be more like this group of brothers.

Heyward is here to teach. His teammates have shown a willingness to listen, learn and support. It’s that simple. It’s that profound. 

Comments (7)
No. 1-3

This is a very well written story and Jason Heyward is a terrific example of what needs to happen to combat this systemic racism in our country. Three things need to happen: (1) Education - why are we so afraid of races/color different than our own? (2) Training - it's unconscionable to me why the officer felt so "threatened" he had to fire SEVEN times into the back of Mr. Blake. Yes, apparently there was a knife in the floorboard of the vehicle. He also had his THREE YOUNG SONS in the vehicle. Does a reasonable person think Mr. Blake's plan was to pull out a weapon and fire a gun at officers he knew was holding a gun to his back, all the while his three unprotected sons would be at risk for collateral gunfire? There's a serious training deficiency happening across the country with our police force if that's the case. (3) Interactions - we've got to get out and practice what we've learned - that we all bleed the same, we all dream of our best life, we love, we cry, we get angry, we laugh - all the same. Let's get to know persons of other colors and races, there's a beautiful world out there made up of all of us!

As to Johnny Blues and your very angry and disappointing response, regarding Justine Damond, yes, that is a terrible example of an officer shooting of an unarmed citizen - did you read the rest of the story? On March 20, 2018, Noor was charged with second-degree manslaughter and third-degree murder. Prosecutors later upgraded the charges against Noor to second-degree intentional murder. In April 2019, Noor was convicted of third-degree murder and manslaughter, but acquitted of intentional second-degree murder.[5] In June 2019, Noor was sentenced to 12.5 years in prison.[6] Damond's family brought a civil lawsuit against the City of Minneapolis alleging violation of Damond's civil rights, which the city settled for $US20 million,[7] one of the largest-ever settlements in a suit involving a police killing. What's happened with Breonna Taylor's killers? Nothing as yet. What's going to happen with Mr. Blake's attackers? Hopefully the same thing currently happening with Mr. Floyd's killers - let the legal process take effect. The problem that is perceived to happen is that when a white person is killed by a black person, justice is served in the "normal" way - the legal process runs its course as expected. When a black person is killed by a white person, it requires nationwide protests to get the DA to launch an investigation. It shouldn't require protests like we've seen for justice to be served.

johnny blues
johnny blues

UPDATE: The scum bag is a child molester. Keep shooting until he stops moving

johnny blues
johnny blues

Jason Heyward just took a day off to protest the death of a criminal resisting arrest and trying to get a weapon to kill a police officer. Suicide by stupidity. How many days off did he take for Cannon Hinnant, a 5 year old white boy who was brutally shot in the head by a black animal just because he was white? He has been vocal about George Floyd, a drug addict, ex con with a bad heart who got jacked up on grass, fentynal and mega-amphetamines and died of a heart attack, but he never mentioned Justine Damond. In the same city, Justine Damond called the police to report a possible assault down the alley behind her home. When she went out to meet the police car in her pajamas Black officer Mohamed Noor reached over his partner and shot her dead. Noor’s partner was described as “stunned” by the shooting. I also have never seen him take a day off for any of the thousands of blacks who are murdered by other blacks.
Sorry, Jason, I have always had tremendous respect for you but …NO MORE. Like BLM, you can no longer claim to care about social justice or black lives…you don’t give a damn about either. Like LeBron, you are just another pathetic, hate-filled, racist antagonist. I am embarrassed that I ever cheered for you. I have been a CUB fan for over 60 years, but I am embarrassed for a team that would employ you. I’m sure you don’t care, I’m just another white demon, but I will never watch another game until they dump your racist ass. Many thousands of Americans, white and black, will die because of people like you encouraging violence.