Jason Heyward doesn’t only think it’s “OK” to live in the anger of this moment in history.

“I think it’s necessary as well,” the Cubs outfielder said during NBC Sports Chicago’s ‘Race in America’ round table this week. “I think we need to have that chip on our shoulder, and we’ve got to use that as motivation to get this right, to keep pushing for it needing to be right.”

Heyward was one of four influential Black athletes who joined Laurence Holmes for ‘Race in America: A candid conversation.’ Holmes hosted a powerful discussion on the personal experiences of Heyward, Sam Acho, Allen Robinson and Thaddeus Young, in the wake George Floyd’s death and a surge of protests calling for police reform and social justice.

“Let’s do things like this interview right here, allow people to hear what we’re saying,” Heyward said. “I understand everyone’s not going to love it. No one’s ever going to love everything, but we’ve got to continue to bring it to people in a way they can understand. Because a big part of it is they don’t understand us: the way we talk, the way we look, the way we dress. Like, bro, this is just the way we do, this is how we make it through our struggle.

“I understand you’ve got a struggle. I’m not trying to diminish that. I’m not trying to talk down on it and say mine means more. But right now, my race is going through this. This is what we’re going through, this is what we’re trying to have stop happening.”

 

Heyward has embraced the social responsibility thrust upon him as a high-profile Black baseball player. He was one of just 68 African American players on MLB’s 2019 opening day rosters, injured lists and restricted lists, according to USA Today, representing 7.7 percent of players. Major League Baseball has experienced a steep decline in African American players since 1995, when 19 percent of players were African American.

“I’m 6-5. I’ve got a beard. I play baseball,” Heyward said. “There’s a target on that. I stand out in my sport. I stand out in a lot of professions. …  If anything, I’m more looked to for situations like this.”

In the past month Heyward has given multiple interviews on race, was one of a handful of Chicago athletes involved in a community event for generating change-inspiring dialogue at By The Hand Club For Kids, and appeared in a video alongside fellow Black MLB players lending their support to the Black Lives Matter movement.

“We’ve got to be aware that we need to speak,” Heyward told Holmes. “And when we speak, we need to ... use this time to have great aim with that frustration, with that anger, with that fear that we have.”

You can watch the full episode of ‘Race in America: A Candid Conversation’ below: