Jason Heyward received a text from Dodgers outfielder Mookie Betts Wednesday afternoon, and MLB’s place in a movement started by the NBA began to take shape before him.
Betts was going to talk to Dodgers manager Dave Roberts about sitting out in protest.
“Before I could even get myself together to go talk to our manager,” Heyward said, “He called me in his office.”
David Ross had seen how the sports world was reacting to the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wis., and he wanted to open a dialogue with Heyward.
Heyward decided to pull himself out of the lineup before the Cubs’ 7-6 loss at Detroit on Wednesday. Individuals such as the Cardinals’ Dexter Fowler and Jack Flaherty, and the Rockies’ Matt Kemp also sat out of games as part of the social justice movement. Whole teams, including Betts’ Dodgers, decided not to play, postponing games between the Dodgers and Giants, Mariners and Padres, and Brewers and Reds.
“I had full support from them, teammates coaching staff, everyone,” Heyward said. “So, I encourage them to go out there and play the game tonight.”
The NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks started the ripple effect when they didn’t take the court for their playoff game Wednesday afternoon. Police in their home state had shot Blake seven times in the back. The Bucks called for justice for Blake, plus police and criminal justice reform. Other teams joined them, and the NBA postponed all three of the league’s games that day.
When Heyward walked out of Ross’ office, he knew he wanted to be a part of the movement. At the beginning of the year he’d made a statement with The Players Alliance – a group of over 100 Black current and former professional baseball players focused on increasing “opportunities for the Black community in every aspect of our game and beyond.”
Heyward made a cameo in a social justice video that featured Alliance members pledging to speak up and urging viewers to “be the change” with them.
“I feel like I need to be a part of it,” Heyward said of Wednesday’s movement, “or else I'm going back on my word.”
Heyward had given his teammates a heads up that this day might come. On Opening Day, he’d decided not to take a knee during the national anthem and instead stand with his teammates, “symbolically as one,” as he put it. But he made it clear that he wasn’t afraid to take that kind of step.
“I don’t know how life’s going to play out,” he remembers saying, “and I may have to do something to bring some awareness.”
That’s what Wednesday night was about for him.
After talking in the manager’s office, Heyward and Ross met with the rest of the team to relay Heyward’s decision and discuss what to do next.
“For him to say something to us, it has to be so hard,” Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. “To see the pain, man, it’s so real.”
Ross pursed his lips and glanced at the ceiling as he held back tears after the game.
“I can’t even imagine what he’s going through,” Ross said.
According to Heyward several of his teammates said they didn’t feel comfortable playing if he wasn’t going to. Ross said players brought up similar concerns to him in his office and then the dugout.
Time was running out. About a half an hour before game time, the Cubs announced that Heyward was a healthy scratch from the lineup, and according to Ross that wasn’t long after Heyward made his decision.
But Heyward had an answer for his teammates’ concerns.
“Don't not go out there and play because you feel like you're leaving me behind,” he said. “That's not what this is. We still have a season going on, we're still trying to accomplish something as a family. I feel you guys' support. I'm going to support you.”
On schedule, the Cubs took the field.
Heyward remained in the dugout during the game, surrounded by teammates but taking a stand of his own.
“Sports sometimes are 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 acted on, I think it’s huge that sports do also pay attention and use the platform that we have in another way.”