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Jason Heyward, Cubs ‘moving forward together’ following conversations on racial injustice

4 years agoAndy Martinez

In a strange way, Thursday’s off day was a blessing for Jason Heyward and the Cubs.

He didn’t want his decision to not play Wednesday’s game to be about him. Heyward wanted it to be a conversation starter on racial injustice in the country. And thanks to the off day, it was just that.

“I feel like that’s the thing people don’t realize,” Heyward said. “‘Oh, you sat out, what did that do?’ It’s doing a lot; it’s doing a lot because it’s making people focus on something else besides just the sports that are happening right now.”

That dialogue happened amongst teammates, coaches and the front office. After Wednesday’s game, during Thursday’s off day and even prior to Friday’s series opener against the Reds, there was open communication on the subject.

David Ross, teammates and front office members reached out to Heyward to open that line of communication. Prior to Friday’s game against the Reds, the team had a meeting where they discussed the topic, in addition to their first half assessments.

Heyward and other current and former Black baseball players formed the Players Alliance earlier this season to use their collective voice and platform to create an inclusive culture in baseball. Heyward and other members from the Players Alliance committed to donating their salaries from Friday’s game, Jackie Robinson Day, and the game they sat out to the Players Alliance that’s going towards the Jackie Robinson Foundation.

Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein, Cubs president of business operations Crane Kenney and other members of the Cubs front office pledged to do the same in support of Heyward and the Players Alliance.

“Theo has always been that way when it’s come to this,” Heyward said. “Once we got together, again, [Epstein] was right there, up front, making sure he held himself accountable, holding us all accountable and addressing this, together and moving forward together.

“I think that’s what all of us hope as players and the Players Alliance. We just hope that people have a conversation. People at least ask, instead of just keep going and act like nothing’s going on.”

Ian Happ was one of those teammates that reached out and supported him, too.

“What he’s done for this city, his contributions, his selflessness, his time, it’s just amazing to watch,” Happ said. “He’s got so much on his plate that I just wanna make sure that he knows that he’s loved and supported, and I try to bring that to him every day.”

Ross reached out to Heyward, too. On Wednesday, Ross called Heyward into his office before the outfielder had made a decision to let him know he supported him. Ross followed that up with another phone call on Thursday. Ross has had those conversations with Heyward and has learned from them.

“Just the scenarios that people are dealing with that I’ve never dealt with,” Ross said.  “I’ve never had a gun pointed at me. Never. I don’t even understand what that feeling would be like.

“I’ve never had somebody assume things about me because of the color of my skin and be treated in certain ways because of that. I don’t understand that, no. I try to listen to them, try to empathize with that and try to change my views and change how I try to talk to my kids and teach.”

That’s been the biggest thing Heyward has taken from the last 48 hours. He’s been able to have tough conversations and others have learned from him and understand him.

“I had more people reach out to me yesterday, acknowledging and realizing that things did happen quickly on Wednesday night for us in that we didn’t really have an opportunity to talk about it like we’re gonna do here as a team in a little bit,” Heyward said before the team met. “It did get the point across. It did bring awareness.”

And it’s fitting it all came to a forefront on Friday, when the league celebrated Jackie Robinson Day. When MLB honors the man who brought change to the game of baseball, it gives Heyward hope that he can continue that legacy.

“Big picture, for me, is without a Jackie Robinson situation, I’m not sitting here in front of you as a Major League Baseball player without that progress,” Heyward said. “We wanna do our part in having that kinda progress. We wanna be able to look back 10, 20-years from now saying, in the year of 2020, what we did made a big difference to move things forward.”

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