Heyward sits out: 'I needed to be a part of it'

August 27th, 2020

fully expected to take the field with the Cubs on Wednesday night in Detroit. Then, his phone began to buzz with text messages from players around the league, and the veteran outfielder quickly became aware of what was unfolding across the sports landscape.

With protests surging over racial injustice and police brutality, the Milwaukee Bucks boycotted their postseason game on Wednesday and the NBA followed suit with the postponement of multiple contests. Players for the Brewers and Reds then voted not to play their game, beginning a similar movement in MLB.

"I couldn't go out there and play tonight -- not with what's happening," Heyward said after the game.

Heyward was one of several players across the league who stood in solidarity by not participating in their team's contests. Dexter Fowler and Jack Flaherty did so with the Cardinals. Matt Kemp did the same with the Rockies. The Mariners, Padres, Dodgers and Giants postponed their games.

The WNBA also postponed its regular-season games on Wednesday, while Major League Soccer postponed five of its six matches.

The incident that fueled this latest wave of protesting across the sports landscape occurred Sunday, when Jacob Blake, a Black man, was shot seven times by a white police officer in Kenosha, Wis. This came months after nationwide unrest following the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery.

Heyward has been vocal about standing with other athletes to support the Black Lives Matter movement in an effort to raise awareness about systemic racism and to hopefully help bring about change.

"We've just got to keep bringing awareness," Heyward said. "There's no plan for this. This is our life. This is our livelihood. This is what's going on in our community. So I feel like I needed to be a part of it, or else I'm going back on my word."

Leading up to Wednesday's 7-6 loss to the Tigers, Heyward said he heard from multiple players across baseball. The outfielder noted that Mookie Betts was among those to reach out, noting that he planned on speaking with Dodgers manager Dave Roberts about their planned game against the Giants.

"There's things in this country that are not right, right now," Cubs first baseman 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."

In light of the postponements in Milwaukee, San Diego and San Francisco, MLB released the following statement:

"Given the pain in the communities of Wisconsin and beyond following the shooting of Jacob Blake, we respect the decisions of a number of players not to play tonight. Major League Baseball remains united for change in our society and we will be allies in the fight to end racism and injustice."

Before first pitch, Cubs manager David Ross found Heyward and called him into his office to discuss playing. After what Ross called "an emotional conversation," Heyward decided to sit out. First, though, Heyward spoke to his teammates.

"I needed to be a part of what's going on in my community," Heyward said. "And I had full support from them -- teammates, coaching staff, everyone. I encouraged them to go out there and play the game tonight. I didn't want anyone to sit here and say, 'No, we don't need to play the game.' I can only tell them what I was going to do and lead that way."

Ross said multiple players came into his office or approached him in the dugout, expressing a willingness to join Heyward by not playing. Ross again went back to Heyward to say that the team was open to not taking the field against the Tigers.

"He was pretty adamant about having the guys play," Ross said.

Heyward praised the decision of the NBA to postpone its playoff games. He said the steps taken on that front likely helped convince teams and players in other sports to join the movement on Wednesday night.

"Sports sometimes is a distraction. And not in a bad way. It's a good thing," Heyward said. "But when you have causes that need to be spoken on and need to be acted on, I think it's huge that sports do also pay attention and use the platform that we have in the right way."

The Cubs have an off-day on Thursday and then play four games over the weekend in Cincinnati. Heyward said he was not sure what the next step would be for him or other players. Ross emphasized that "this is not the end of this conversation."

Ross was then asked how much sympathy he has for Heyward, given their long relationship together in baseball.

At that, the manager fought back tears.

"I mean, you know, it's …" said Ross, who then paused to collect himself. "Yeah, I can't even imagine what he's going through."