The last 48 hours have been an emotional experience for the Cubs after right fielder Jason Heyward joined athletes across sports by taking himself out of the lineup Wednesday in Detroit to protest the police shooting Sunday of 29-year-old Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
Heyward was the only Cub who was unavailable in their 7-6 loss Wednesday to the Tigers. While the team briefly discussed what it should do before the first pitch, Heyward’s encouragement ultimately led his teammates to play — a decision that might have been different with more time.
‘‘I don’t think there’s any doubt that we’re all on the same page as J,’’ manager David Ross said Friday. ‘‘I know the outside narrative may be a little critical, but we know our heart and what’s going on in here. We’re trying to do right by J. We’ve always been trying to do what’s right by him. And so, yeah, I think if we would have had a game [Thursday], it may have been a much different story.’’
‘‘I’m going to continue to say I didn’t feel like it was something that I needed to put above our team,’’ Heyward said before drawing two walks and hitting a home run in the Cubs’ 6-5 loss to the Reds in Cincinnati. ‘‘I think we all had that outlook [of]: ‘We’re a family. We support each other. We don’t leave anyone behind.’
‘‘The support and love was felt on my end from them, and they know that I wanted to be out there playing. But they understand I had to do what I had to do.’’
The Cubs decided to play Friday — on Jackie Robinson Day, coincidentally — and Heyward thought playing was the right way for him to move forward.
‘‘Just to be honest, I hadn’t thought about not playing today,’’ Heyward said before the game. ‘‘It’s nice timing. It’s one of the great coincidences in the fact that we had an off-day and our next game is Jackie Robinson Day on Friday. It works out that way. It’s a really cool thing.’’
Heyward has been at the forefront on the issues of racial injustice and police brutality, and the efforts he has made locally and as a voice around the majors hasn’t been lost on one of his younger teammates.
‘‘I think he’s been such a strong influence on the city of Chicago,’’ outfielder Ian Happ said of Heyward. ‘‘What he’s done for the city — his contributions, his selflessness, his time — it’s just amazing to watch. He’s somebody that I look up to, and I’m just so proud of him.’’
Athletes across the sports landscape have taken it upon themselves to be igniters for change, but teams, management and ownership groups also should play a role in these efforts. Verbal support and statements only go so far without action.
Heyward said Cubs president Theo Epstein reached out to him Friday and told him what he and the front office were planning. Epstein, president of business operations Crane Kenney and other Cubs’ front-office members will donate their salaries from Thursday and Friday to The Players Alliance, which will put it toward the Jackie Robinson Foundation.
‘‘Those are things that they’re doing and taking action,’’ Heyward said. ‘‘Theo has always been that way when it’s come to this. Before we got together, I think I let everyone know he reached out to me. Once we got together again, he was right there up front, making sure he held himself accountable, holding us all accountable, addressing this together and moving forward together.
‘‘I think that’s what all of us hope for as players and The Players Alliance. We just hope that people have a conversation, that people at least ask instead of just keep going and act like nothing’s going on.’’