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Sheryl Ring: The Cubs, Laura Ricketts Fail to Show True Support for Queer Community + The Betsy Devos Connection

On Betsy DeVos, the Ricketts Family, and Why Representation Matters


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The queer community, a longstanding pillar of the Chicagoland area and an integral part of the Second City’s history, has long been linked with the North Side’s venerable baseball team. Back in 1981, the Cubs’ AAA affiliate in Iowa was run by an openly gay part-owner and executive, Rich Eychaner. The team’s annual pride night, called “Out at Wrigley,” was started in 2001 and is Major League Baseball’s longest-running queer pride event. The Cubs have long had a float in the city’s annual pride parade. In short, there’s no way to separate the Cubs from the city’s queer history.

Or there wasn’t until relatively recently. In 2009, the Tribune Company sold the Cubs franchise and Wrigley Field to the ultra-conservative Ricketts Family, which for decades had been heavily involved in Republican politics. Joe Ricketts, the family patriarch, is the billionaire founder TD Ameritrade and bankroller of GOP presidential campaigns, including a million-dollar donation to President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign. He’s also the figure behind the family’s recent racist email scandal and a longtime holder of white nationalist views. Joe Ricketts have four children who hold equally odious views. Pete Ricketts is governor of Nebraska and an employer of white nationalist aides. Todd Ricketts is the national campaign chairman for Donald Trump. Tom Ricketts, who is chiefly in charge of the Cubs’ operations, recently partnered the team with Sinclair Broadcasting, a media conglomerate that requires that the television stations it owns run virulently homophobic and transphobic content, misogynistic drivel attacking victims of sexual assault, and pro-Trump pieces. As an example of the type of people Sinclair employs, its chief meteorologist is known for referring to trans people publicly as “things” and “its.”

Then there’s Laura Ricketts, Joe’s daughter.

Laura Ricketts, a former litigation attorney, co-owns the Cubs and is the first openly lesbian co-owner of a Major League Baseball team. On the surface, Laura seems refreshingly open to the queer community, despite her family: she’s a philanthropist for queer causes from Lambda Legal to Howard Brown. She fundraised for Barack Obama. At first, Laura’s influence seemed to keep the Cubs squarely in the center of the queer community; in 2011, for example, at her urging, the Cubs became just the second MLB team to join the “It Gets Better” project. But as time went on, it became clear that Laura had less and less influence into how the team was being run. For example, in 2018, the Cubs acquired second baseman Daniel Murphy, who was known as much for his bat as for his repeated homophobic comments about the gay “lifestyle.” Laura defended the trade after discussions with her brothers. But the team’s acquisition of an openly homophobic player caused massive backlash among the city’s queer population and the team’s sizable LGBTQ fanbase.

In one move, the team had gone from the heart of the city’s queer community to well outside it, and Laura Ricketts had taken the side of her homophobic family.

 

But the reality is that Chicago’s queer community should never have had faith in Laura Ricketts to preserve the Cubs’ ties to the LGBTQ community at all – not necessarily because she wasn’t up to the task, but rather because she was always a flawed messenger. Remember, Laura comes from a remarkably conservative, homophobic family. For some – even most – queer people, having a relationship with an intolerant family isn’t even possible. Laura’s privilege was her family’s money, and in order to accept that money she turned away from the worst excesses of her family regardless of whom they supported. And lest you think that this is just about politics, it’s not. You see, we learned all we needed to know about Laura Ricketts when she participated in the purchase of the Cubs.

Why? Because the Ricketts family, as odious as it is, isn’t the most homophobic or racist family involved. That distinction instead belongs to their minority partner in the Cubs ownership group, the Devos family. Yes, as in Betsy DeVos, secretary of education.

The DeVos family was known for its questionable morals long before Betsy sat before Congress and admitted to intentionally rolling back protections for trans students because of the data showing increased suicide rates for trans children. Family patriarch Richard DeVos, who made his money with AmWay, a multi-level marketing scam that was probably illegal, and he and Betsy, his daughter in law, spent it on homophobic causes. In the 20 years before the DeVos family purchased a stake in the Cubs, they donated more than six million dollars to organizations supporting conversion therapywith Betsy leading the way. She bankrolled efforts which she said would “confront the culture in which we all live today in ways that will continue to help advance God’s Kingdom, but not to stay in our own faith territory,” and compared queer people to pigs.

In 2015, most of this was already publicly known. But the Ricketts family sold about 10% of the team to the DeVos family to finance the renovations of Wrigley Field anyway, and gave them an advisory role with the team. Laura, it should be noted, said nothing publicly, and did nothing publicly, to oppose the sale. There are no reports that she did anything to oppose the sale privately either.

And if you still don’t believe me, remember this. Laura Ricketts is a queer woman who sits on the Board of the Chicago Cubs. And yet she said not a word when the Cubs traded for domestic abuser Aroldis Chapman. She again said nothing when the team tendered a contract to domestic abuser Addison Russell. And yet, she has no problem playing Kingmaker in Chicago politics. If she won’t stand up against domestic violence and institutionalized misogyny by her team despite being a woman, why are we expecting her to speak up on behalf of queer people because she’s queer? In fact, she’s doing the opposite: using her position to shield her bigoted family from criticism over decisions like the Murphy trade.

 

So for those people torn about whether the Cubs are still a queer-friendly organization, I would argue you have your answer already.

Laura Ricketts, whether intentionally or otherwise, has allowed herself to be tokenized as the friendly, female, queer face of an ownership group that is ardently and effectively campaigning for the elimination of queer people and the subjugation of women. As much as Laura Ricketts is a lesbian, she’s also rich and white – two privileges which many people in our community don’t have. And she’s using those privileges to the detriment of women and queer people alike.

 

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