Heyward, Kipnis meet with Chicago teens, police

June 6th, 2020

CHICAGO -- They split into discussion groups. Teenagers from Chicago's Austin neighborhood stood alongside athletes representing one of Chicago's professional teams, with at least one member of the Chicago Police Department present, too.

Former Bears player Sam Acho helped organize the gathering, which included Cubs outfielder Jason Heyward and infielder Jason Kipnis. The event -- which followed proper CDC, state and local safe practice and distancing guidelines -- was held Thursday at the By The Hand club in Austin on Chicago's West Side. Given the national unrest and protests in the days since the killing of George Floyd while being detained by Minneapolis police officers, this was an opportunity for important dialogue in the name of change.

"The beginning of it is people being willing to listen," Heyward said in an interview on ESPN 1000 in Chicago this week.

Besides Heyward and Kipnis, other Chicago athletes on hand included Mitch Trubisky and Allen Robinson of the Bears, Jonathan Toews and Malcolm Subban of the Blackhawks, and Ryan Arcidiacono and Max Strus of the Bulls. By The Hand Club For Kids, BUILD Chicago and Westside Health Authority each had leaders from their organizations on hand, too.

When they broke off into small groups, it allowed the black teens to speak directly to police officers about their concerns and questions, and gave the athletes a chance to give their input or share their own experiences.

Kipnis saw it as a chance to stand back and listen to other perspectives.

"It was a big day for maybe just the athletes to listen," Kipnis said. "If you didn't know how to help, I think this was a good day to learn what you could do from here and kind of put yourself in someone else's shoes for the day. It was eye-opening on that end.

"I wanted to just open my eyes to what's been going on. I can go down Twitter rabbit holes and turn on the news and not get the full picture. ... I'm talking to kids who are wiser beyond their years, because they've been forced to grow up faster than I did."

Following the small-group conversations, the athletes boarded a bus and took a tour of the Austin neighborhood to survey some of the damage caused by unrest in recent days. Illinois congressman Danny K. Davis and alderman Emma Mitts also took part in the special outreach event.

During his radio interview on "Waddle & Silvy," Heyward was asked for his reaction to the events that have unfolded over the past week around the United States following Floyd's death.

"It feels like a broken record and we're watching a rerun," Heyward said. "I feel like these things continue to happen over and over and over again. And you have people continuously and helplessly trying to find a solution."

Heyward -- who grew up in McDonough, Georgia, outside Atlanta -- spoke of how his father warned him at an early age about being treated unfairly based on the color of his skin. Heyward said he experienced hateful language while coming up through the Minor Leagues and still encounters it from time to time as a big leaguer.

"I can't say that I don't see it in places," Heyward said. "I won't single out any places that I do, because to me, that's not important. But, it still does exist and I think that's the message that needs to be put out there. A lot of us still deal with that on a daily basis.

"This one is just - as we can see right now, the reason we're having this discussion - this one is on a bigger scale because there's a lot of destruction going on right now that is being based off some of the actions and hatred."

As a white male, Kipnis reiterated the importance of listening to and learning from people who have different life experiences.

"We've had the privilege to look away," Kipnis said. "We've had the privilege to kind of judge from the sidelines and what our thoughts would be, instead of having to deal with it ourselves."

Thursday's event was a small step in that direction for everyone involved.

"Everyone has different views and different concerns," Heyward said. "Every ethnicity, race, gender, all these things, people have their own struggles, man. But, I think at the end of the day, right now, we're seeing a lot of conversation about this that we've seen before, but I think it's being spread a little faster through social media."