Pride Month: Cubs co-owner Laura Ricketts says she has ‘responsibility’ to represent gay community

The first openly gay owner of a major American sports team seeks to share her experience ‘that other people just don’t have’ following MLB’s recent controversies

SHARE Pride Month: Cubs co-owner Laura Ricketts says she has ‘responsibility’ to represent gay community
Laura Ricketts Chicago Cubs

Chicago Cubs co-owner Laura Ricketts wears a shirt that promotes pride in both her team and the gay community.

AP

Laura Ricketts burst into her office Thursday morning, bags in hand, clad in a Cubs jersey that read “Team LPAC” across the back. She wore white Vans that bore Pride colors along the shoes’ sidewalls. The bags held Cubs Pride Celebration pins, stickers and hats.

She had a meeting later, she explained. For a pioneering team owner who prioritizes charity, political activism and community advocacy, the notion that blue pinstripes and rainbow shoes would be meeting attire suddenly seemed obvious.

Ricketts, who co-owns the Cubs with her brothers through their family trust, was hosting the board of LPAC, a political action committee founded by LGBTQ+ women and chaired by Ricketts.

For her, LGBTQ+ causes are a year-round commitment. But there is something special about Pride Month. From her office window, Ricketts can see the rainbow flags flapping in the wind atop Wrigley Field, and they make her smile. They’ll be up all month.

“That flag is interwoven into our fabric of how we work here and what we do,” she said in a conversation with the Sun-Times. “I would use the word ‘inclusive,’ but I don’t even think that’s the right word because they’re a part of us.”

Ricketts also has a personal connection. When her family took over majority ownership of the Cubs in 2009, she was considered the first openly gay owner of a major American professional sports team — although she adds caveats to that pioneering title.

“I absolutely feel a sense of responsibility,” Ricketts said, “to speak up, to represent and to be mindful of those things, because I bring an experience that other people here just don’t have.”

Now, she serves as a competing voice during a month of controversy in MLB. The dominant stories entering June were the Dodgers’ public waffling over whether to honor the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, and the Blue Jays’ handing of pitcher Anthony Bass after he reposted a video calling for boycotts of Bud Light and Target because of their pro-LGBTQ+ marketing and products.

On Thursday, commissioner Rob Manfred added fuel to the fire when he told reporters in New York that MLB discouraged teams from putting pride-themed logos on players’ uniforms in order to “protect” players and avoid putting them in an uncomfortable situation “because of their personal views.”

MLB teams do, by contrast, wear camouflage-themed gear for Armed Forces Day. Every MLB team but the Rangers hosts a Pride game, and Manfred said the league has no plans to standardize the celebrations.

‘A gift’

“For me, coming out was eye-opening,” Ricketts said.

She commends her parents for their hard work and sacrifice as she and her brothers were growing up. But she’s up front about the privilege she has experienced as a white woman whose college was paid for and whose family came into wealth.

Ricketts came out in her early 30s. She remembers, “many years ago,” driving in eastern Wyoming and trying to check into a small-town hotel with her partner. They weren’t far from where Matthew Shepard, a gay college student, was brutally murdered in 1998. Her prevailing thought was, “am I safe here?”

“That is just a little bitty taste of what a lot of people experience,” she said. “And it’s a gift because it’s enlightening. And it opens your eyes to things that a lot of other people can’t see — not for any fault of their own, but they just don’t have that experience.”

Ricketts felt called to action about four or five years ago, she estimates, when MLB’s then-chief diversity and inclusion officer, Renee Tirado, happened to be in town. After meeting up with Tirado, Laura went to her brother Tom, who serves as the Cubs chairman.

“We’d been trying to be mindful of being inclusive and having a diverse workforce in all respects,” Laura recounted.

She wanted to do more.

She remembers saying to Tom: “We strive to be the best and everything . . . I want us to be the best at diversity and inclusion. I want us to be the team where people say, ‘The Cubs are really doing it right. Let’s go talk to them. Let’s go see how they’re doing it.’ ”

The bar has been set low in MLB, which hasn’t been as engaged in pushes for social justice and equality as leagues such as the WNBA and NBA.

Setting the intention was step one.

Celebration

The Cubs were the first team to host an annual “gay day,” predating the Ricketts family’s purchase of the team.

Bill Gubrud, who brought the idea of “Out at Wrigley” to the Cubs in 2001, said he hoped from the beginning that eventually every MLB team would host their own version of the event. It seemed like a “lofty” goal then.

Other than 2020, when ballparks closed their doors to fans because of the pandemic, he has organized the event every year since. He first met Ricketts in 2010.

“People’s eyes and face, everything, just brighten up when she walks in [a room],” Gubrud said.

In a bittersweet turn, the Cubs’ Pride Celebration has grown so much that it’s overshadowed its predecessor. Gubrud said he has decided not to put on “Out at Wrigley” this year. “There’s no one to blame but myself,” he said. “Because I dream, I got my wish. And I knew one day this would happen.”

The Cubs hosted their annual pride celebration Tuesday. And every year, they march in the Pride Parade.

One of Ricketts’ fondest memories came in 2010, the Cubs’ first year with a float in the parade, sitting next to Ernie Banks as he marveled at how happy the onlookers seemed.

“I’m like, ‘Ernie, you have no idea what it means to them that you’re here,’ ’’ Ricketts said. “ ‘That’s why they’re so happy. It’s because you’re here today. And you’re celebrating them.’ ”

‘Space and grace’

Ricketts didn’t know Cubs pitcher Marcus Stroman was going to donate to LGBTQ+ organizations in each of the cities he’d played for in his MLB career until the morning of his announcement two weeks ago.

She pulled out her phone to text him and found herself crying.

Ricketts said she knows Channyn Lynne Parker, the CEO of Brave Space Alliance, the LGBTQ+ Center in Chicago that Stroman chose. And Ricketts knew the impact his message would have.

After multiple attempts, Ricketts sent a text saying how meaningful his gesture was to so many people, including her.

Around the same time, a back-and-forth played out between the Dodgers and the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. Originally, the Dodgers had invited the advocacy and fund-raising group to their Pride Night. But the team received backlash from several players and politicians who accused the group, which often dresses in nuns’ habits while performing religious satire, of being anti-Catholic.

The Dodgers reversed course, issuing an apology. They were met by pushback from other LGBTQ+ organizations, some of whom said they were pulling out of Pride Night. So, the Dodgers re-invited the Sisters, re-offered them a community service award, and issued another apology.

On the other side of North America, the Blue Jays were fumbling in the fallout from Bass’ Instagram repost. He gave an apology statement but didn’t initially take questions. Blue Jays fans booed him when he took the Rogers Centre mound. He was slated to catch the ceremonial first pitch to kick off Pride Weekend, but the Blue Jays designated him for assignment earlier that day.

“My personal experience of it was, it’s unfortunate,” Ricketts said of the turmoil. “But not surprising, because there are a lot of different perspectives throughout all of society, and the league is a microcosm of it all.”

A couple hours later, Manfred took the podium at the owners meetings in New York and told reporters: “We have told teams, in terms of actual uniforms, hats, bases that we don’t think putting logos on them is a good idea just because of the desire to protect players and not putting them in a position of doing something that may make them uncomfortable because of their personal views.”

Memorably, a handful of Rays players last year decided not to wear Pride patches and hats, citing religious reasons.

“This is a league that not every team or every owner or every player is going to agree on everything,” Ricketts said. “And we all have to learn to give each other space and grace and work together.”

All the while, Ricketts will keep donning her Team LPAC jersey and rainbow-clad shoes.

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