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Jason Heyward Discusses Civil Rights Game, Inspiring African American Youth to Play Ball

Jason Heyward Discusses Civil Rights Game, Inspiring African American Youth to Play Ball

Jason Heyward grew up during a time when an abundance of African American baseball players starred in Major League Baseball. As a youth, Heyward was inspired by players such as Ricky Henderson, Ken Griffey Jr., and Ryan Howard. However, the number of black MLB players  dwindled tremendously in the past decade. In 2011, the percentage of black players dropped from 10 to 8.5 percent. Heyward, an All-Star right-fielder of the Atlanta Braves, recently sat down with rolling out sports to discuss the annual MLB Civil Rights Game and how he encourages African American youth to become engaged in the game of baseball. –amir shaw

The 2011 Civil Rights Game will take place in Atlanta on Saturday, May 14. Why is it important for this game to be played in your hometown?

It’s great that the game is in Atlanta. With this being the birthplace of Martin Luther King, Jackie Robinson was born in Georgia, and Hank Aaron played with the Braves, the Civil Rights Game is right at home. I feel like it’s a good way to give back and reach out to the African American community. I always want to give back as much as possible, and I definitely will stay after the game to see Ludacris perform.

The number of black players in the MLB continues to decline. What are you doing to encourage African American youth to get involved in the game?

I’m a part of a nonprofit called LEAD that’s based in Atlanta. The organization creates an opportunity where it’s free to come out and play. Baseball is an expensive sport, and it demands so much time that a lot of parents don’t have. Black baseball players in the MLB have to create a positive image and let the kids know that it’s a fun game.

Your father played an important role in getting you involved in the game. What are the most important things that he taught you about baseball?

My father taught me to play the game the right way and be a good teammate. He taught me to add to the game in a good light. For me, I think it’s good to keep the African American feel in the game. It proves that black players can play the game of baseball and have fun doing this, too. The influences are going to show.

What advice do you have for young individuals about achieving success?

With anything you do, you have to be the best at it, and don’t take anything for granted. You also have to treat people well and don’t burn bridges. On the way up, you will see the same people when you’re falling down. Enjoy what you’re doing, and be prepared everyday. Baseball is a business, but I play the game and have fun the same way I did when I was five.

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