So far, the Cubs have not been among the several teams with players or managers taking a knee to protest racial injustice during the national anthem of exhibition games this week.
But Cubs players plan to be among those across MLB who will wear Black Lives Matter-themed T-shirts for batting practice and/or uniform patches that read “Black Lives Matter” or “United for Change” when the season opens Friday.
Players may also wear similar-themed wristbands or put messages on their cleats.
“We’ve had multiple meetings on racial injustice, and we’ve got a plan in place for Opening Day that these guys are unified with,” manager David Ross said Wednesday of conversations players and staff have had. “It really has been some great discussions and great conversations, learning a lot about things that we don’t see or what other people may be going through.
“It’s been really powerful, I think, for this group to have those discussions and brought us closer together in my opinion. It’s been very rewarding on my end.”
Cubs right fielder Jason Heyward, among a declining number Black players in the league, has been among the MLB players who have spoken out publicly on racism in the game and society in the aftermath of the suffocation killing in May of George Floyd by Minneapolis police that sparked protests across the country that continue in some cities today.
“This stuff’s been happening for years, for centuries,” Heyward said as players reported for summer training camp three weeks ago. “At the end of the day, I think [the national attention and protests are] a huge step in the right direction. But it’s to be determined how long it’s going to last.”
Cubs president Theo Epstein called out his own hiring practices that have produced little diversity in his front office and played a lead role in calling attention to baseball’s systemic racism, including a recognition of the Black Lives Matter movement during the televised MLB draft last month.
Speaking out on racism and other socially conscious issues — in particular by Black players — has traditionally been silenced within clubhouses and the larger culture of a sport that has seen the numbers of Black American players in the majors drop to just 7.7 percent.
“I do know that our players have heard the message loud and clear that we want them to express themselves and be themselves,” Epstein said, “and that we see them as people and as citizens, not just as players.
“And that the concept of shutting up and dribbling or shutting up and playing baseball in this case does not apply in this organization.”
The player-driven conversations that resulted in the messages players are allowed to literally wear on their sleeves this season are where cultural and systemic changes might begin — or at least have a chance to keep the conversations from fading back into the background sports restarting.
The NBA is leading all sports in that effort, with “Black Lives Matter” painted on its courts and players allowed to display personal messages on their uniforms.
But baseball voices are at least finally starting to be heard, whether Giants manager Gabe Kapler joining some of his players in kneeling this week, Angels pitcher Keynan Middleton kneeling and raising a fist during the anthem in San Diego or “Black Lives Matter” being painted in giant letters across the exterior of Fenway Park in Boston.
Giants players kneeling during the anthem pic.twitter.com/xT2YkbQ8GS— SF Giants on NBCS (@NBCSGiants) July 21, 2020
“First it starts with players like myself, African Americans, speaking up,” Heyward said. “Just speaking truth, speaking knowledge, letting people know we’re here for equality. We’re not here for any special treatment.
“We’re not here saying we’re perfect. It’s not about that. No one’s perfect. Everyone has their struggles and differences. But for us this is new. This is new for us to be able to speak up.”