Heyward embraces his role amid social unrest

'This is new for us to be able to speak up, and it's not easy'

July 4th, 2020

CHICAGO -- does not want the conversation around the Black Lives Matter movement to dissipate. The Cubs outfielder has embraced his role as a voice within the baseball community, and he had a message for his teammates when the group convened at Wrigley Field this weekend.

"I let my teammates know," Heyward said, "if anybody has a question, come ask me."

Heyward said he is not seeking attention, but rather recognizes his role as a resource for those within the Cubs. The veteran outfielder believes it is important that he and other athletes continue to speak on the topic, as other issues around the country begin to occupy the daily news cycle.

Social unrest around the country boiled over after the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police on May 25. His death is among the many cases, including the killings of Breonna Taylor (March 13) and Ahmaud Arbery (Feb. 23), that sparked national protests over systemic racism and police brutality.

In early June, Heyward joined a group of Chicago athletes in the Austin neighborhood on the city's West Side to gather with teens and members of the Chicago Police Department for a group discussion about the happenings around the United States. Heyward believes that conversations need to continue taking place to keep the movement's momentum.

"My thoughts are: take care of my responsibilities, do what I can," Heyward said on a Zoom call with reporters Saturday. "Speak up, speak true, speak clearly, as well as possible. Be as informed as possible, and just try to be a voice that is all those things. Just giving people some truth to it, some light, and positivity about what the real message is."

Heyward said he was discouraged early on that much of the media coverage centered on looting and rioting rather than on the message of equality and the peaceful protestors. He noted that several athletes put their health at risk by joining some of the protests, and felt moments like that deserved more attention.

Heyward was asked if he believes the ongoing movement and protests feel like a true inflection point for the country rather than something that will pass without real change.

"I would like to think, yes, it is different," Heyward said. "I would say social media has played a huge part in that in a great way and in a tough way. It brings more challenges as well, because the more messages out there, just like I was saying, sometimes things are going to get drowned out.

"But, I think there's just a little more reality shown in some of the things that are happening. It's tough to say what's staged, what's not. But when you do get real facts, you do get some people on Twitter, you get people on Instagram and other videos showing what's happening, this stuff has been happening for years, for centuries.

"So at the end of the day, I think it's a huge step in the right direction, but I think TBD -- to be determined on how long this is going to last. Is it going to be sustainable? Because there's always someone and something trying to put something in to disguise it. You know, sports is a distraction from it. Election is a distraction from it.

"Other things going on make it very much easier to turn the page, when right now, I think the blessing and a curse with the [COVID-19] virus is there's not too much going on to drown it out, so people are saying, 'Hey, let's go speak up on it, let's get some information, let's pass on information.'"

Heyward was also asked what he felt Major League Baseball could do to help in continuing the conversation.

"It starts with players like myself, African-Americans, speaking up," he said. "This is new for us to be able to speak up, and it's not easy. It's not comfortable to do so. Because for the longest time, we've kind of said, OK, we know to get to this situation -- someone like myself to get to a free-agent contract and get to choose a city he wants to play in -- you've got to do things the right way and a certain way to be able to gain that kind of respect and reputation.

"Well, it's tough when you see so many people struggling, whether it's African-American, or any race or ethnicity, right now with the virus, with health. And then you see people going out here and trying to protest. Like, we can't just sit here and sit on our hands any longer, knowing that our families, our friends, our communities are struggling.

"So, I think we do play a role in that as players to let people know. And sorry to be long-winded, but that's part of it. We as players first have to speak up to let everyone know, 'OK, this is how you start the conversation,' and then we get rallied by teammates, by organizations and so on."