Life is bigger than baseball.
Jason Heyward was listed in right field and batting sixth for the Cubs when Wednesday night’s lineup was announced, but then came late word that he was a “healthy scratch.” The timing of his decision and the limited media access granted as part of MLB’s safety protocols meant an explanation wouldn’t come until afterwards, but it was pretty clear that Heyward was participating in a much larger set of protests and boycotts taking place throughout professional sports and the country as a whole.
Dexter Fowler, Jack Flaherty, and Matt Kemp all sat out their respective teams’ games. The Brewers opted not to play Wednesday night and the Reds agreed, while the Dodgers, Padres, Giants, and Mariners all postponed their games as well. The WNBA postponed its entire slate and MLS shut down all but one contest.
The NBA, which has long been a cultural leader when it comes to social justice and other matters, is in turmoil after the Lakers and Clippers reportedly voted to boycott the remainder of the season and LeBron James walked out of a league-wide meeting. More discussions will take place Thursday at 11am ET on how to proceed with the remainder of the bubble playoffs.
This latest wave of societal unrest is spurred by the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin this past Sunday. Blake, a 29-year-old Black man, had reportedly been attempting to deescalate a domestic situation when he shot seven times in the back by an officer while trying to enter his vehicle with his children in the backseat.
With anger and frustrations already roiling from the killings of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and George Floyd — not to mention countless others whose names never reached the headlines — it’s too easy to understand why people are upset.
Heyward said after the game that he had every intention of playing, but then other players began reaching out to him about what was happening elsewhere and what they were planning to do. That turned into a meeting with David Ross, which led to a bigger talk with the rest of his team.
“There was discussion, and there were multiple guys saying they weren’t comfortable going out there and playing if I wasn’t gonna go out there,” Heyward told the media afterwards. “They didn’t want to leave me hanging. I let them know, encouraged them, ‘No, go play the game. I don’t think the game should be canceled. But I think I have to do what I have to do.’ That’s another reason that I was out there in the dugout supporting them because they support me every single day through this.”
Heyward has been an active supporter of Black Lives Matter and has made himself available to teammates who want to learn more about various topics they may not have encountered in their own lives. Rather than just shutting up and playing, he understands he can use his status as a way to create meaningful change.
“Sports sometimes is a distraction,” Heyward said. “And not in a bad way. It’s a good thing. 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.”
Of course, wanting create a better world and actually making it happen are two different things, as Anthony Rizzo pointed out.
“I’ve gone through a lot with my high school and shit doesn’t change,” said Rizzo, who attended the same Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that was rocked by a shooting in 2018. “It’s just the fact of the matter. Politicians don’t really give a fuck about us. All they care about is their own agenda and it’s just the way it is and it’s upsetting.”
The Cubs are off Thursday before opening up a four-game weekend set in Cincinnati, but don’t think this will all go away in one day. Or in a month. Or by next season. Sports can absolutely be a distraction and they’ll continue to be for the most part, but expecting athletes to exist outside the bounds of real life is foolish.
“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.”