Monday saw the Chicago Cubs move from damage control mode to the damage repair phase of addressing the fallout caused by Joe Ricketts’ leaked emails. The billionaire TD Ameritrade founder, already previously notorious for holding some bigoted and racist world views, saw his e-mail messages that conveyed severe Islamophobia, consistent bigotry and belief in bizarre conspiracy theories leaked to the press last month.
Since the deplorable electronic missives surfaced, both Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts and Cubs President Theo Epstein have spoken out and publicly condemned racism and Islamophobia. Ricketts the younger is also expected to address this issue with the team soon, as he annually gives a speech to the players before the first workout of spring training where the full roster is present.
Epstein addressed the topic with the media in Arizona when spring training began, saying that he preferred to let future club actions speak louder than mere words as they attempt to repair the severe damage done by Joe Ricketts.
“The reality of the situation is that now some of our fans are forced into a position where there are other things they have to think about,” Epstein said.
“We need to demonstrate through our actions that we believe in ‘Everybody in’ (a Cubs ticket sales marketing slogan) and walking through the turnstiles at Wrigley Field is a sanctuary from some of our problems in the real world.”
Monday saw the club take some bold action as they released a joint statement with CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations) Chicago announcing their partnership.
“We are encouraged the Cubs, led by Tom Ricketts, responded swiftly and genuinely in partnering with us to turn the situation around,” reads a statement from CAIR-Chicago Executive Director Ahmed Rehab.
“As a result, the Cubs are taking a significant step forward and will use the power of their brand and voice to fight Islamophobia, racism and bigotry. We hope other franchises follow their lead. This active commitment to our shared values of Everybody In is not only great for the brand, but for all fans, for the affected communities and for our city as a whole.”
The statement from Tom Ricketts reads:
“We have a tremendous opportunity to further our commitment to diversity and inclusion by joining the Chicago Muslim community in its efforts to eradicate bigotry and Islamophobia. My family and I want to thank Ahmed Rehab and Chicago Muslim leaders for the opportunity to meet and have a frank and constructive dialogue about building a better future.”
So what is the plan for turning this rhetoric into bonafide actions that achieve legitimate progress?
According to the Cubs news release, that do list includes: the participation of notable Muslims in Cubs and Wrigley Field traditions, anti-hate PSAs featuring Cubs personnel helping to raise public awareness against Islamophobia, as well as Cubs support for three community initiatives:
anti-bullying efforts, diversity and inclusion training and scholarships.
Epstein told the media last week that an Islamic community day at Wrigley Field would be only a small part of the ultimate vision.
Although this was probably not his intention, Epstein’s responses on the topic came off a bit like an infomercial for buying Cubs tickets.
“Diversity is important everywhere,” he said.
“Not just because it’s the most important thing to do, but it helps you win. If you’re not diverse, you don’t have the benefit of different backgrounds, different histories, different perspectives, which is what you need collectively to get to the right answer.”
“It applies to our fan base as well. Every part of our fan base should feel as welcomed as the next. One of the great things about baseball is you walk through the turnstiles and come though the ballpark for three to 3½ hours and just enjoy the game.”
While “Everybody In” is used primarily by the Cubs as a sales pitch, CAIR Chicago aims to make it a mantra of diversity, equity and inclusion. These are three values that both the organization and the Ricketts family must now show a true commitment towards.
Since the Ricketts emails leaked, serious doubts about that commitment have been raised among Cubs fans, Muslim and non-Muslim alike.
While Epstein is completely correct in pointing out that doing what’s right helps you win games and it’s also good for business, he would have missed the mark a bit, had he not also said that diversity is the ultimate highest good.
At the end of the day, you go and do the right thing simply because it is right, not just because it benefits you.
Paul M. Banks runs The Sports Bank.net, which is partnered with News Now. Banks, a former writer for NBC Chicago.com and Chicago Tribune.com, regularly appears as a guest pundit on WGN CLTV and co-hosts the “Let’s Get Weird, Sports” podcast on SB Nation.