While some Chicago sports-team owners and investors are tip-toeing around the #TakeTheKnee movement born from Colin Kaepernick’s protest against police mistreatment of minorities, others are embracing the symbolism of teams locking arms or kneeling during the national anthem.
“These players are citizens like the rest of us. Being an athlete isn’t forgoing their rights to be active and to express their opinions,” said Michael Alter, CEO of the Chicago Sky. “When I grew up, I looked up at athletes who felt it was a responsibility to speak up on issues they thought were important. I still feel that way.”
Even before President Donald Trump’s Twitter outbursts prompted by Kaepernick and others kneeling during the national anthem, some WNBA players were at the forefront of speaking out on social-justice issues, including wearing Black Lives Matter T-shirts during warm-ups.
“I believe strongly in the transformational power of sports and the unifying power of sports,” Alter said. “It’s one of the few institutions in our country that can bring people from diverse groups together.”
Alter’s comments come in the wake of Bears Chairman George McCaskey issuing a statement on Sept. 24 saying team management is “proud to support our players” who want to promote “peace and unity.”
Other team executives are still trying to figure out what to say.
A day after their first team meeting, Bulls President and COO Michael Reinsdorf said, “while we talked briefly about the situation, we want to meet again with the players to have more conversations before deciding what we will do.”
Reinsdorf’s father, White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf, declined to comment on the issue. A spokesman for the Chicago Cubs said Tom Ricketts also declined to comment. So did Mark Walter, the Chicago billionaire who owns the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Madison Dearborn Partners Chairman John Canning Jr. has an 11 percent stake in the Milwaukee Brewers. He expects professional baseball is likely to be slower to respond because there are so many players from Latin countries and Canada.
“I think you’ll start to see it in baseball and I think players will do it in a way to show unity,” said Canning, who supports players who kneel or lock arms.
“You can make the argument that you represent the team and in uniform you shouldn’t do that. But now it’s become a repudiation of Trump and his mindless statements. So I don’t see any owner objecting to it no matter their personal feelings,” he said.
Just as they are across the country, Chicago team owners are predominantly white men who sit on the Forbes’ list of billionaires, or are close to it. They most likely voted for or donated to Trump, including most members of the Ricketts family; Laura Ricketts is a major Democratic donor.
These team owners also have butted heads with players over labor issues and how football injuries leads to brain damage.
Besides Laura Ricketts, there are other local minority and women voices in sports ownership. Gary McCullough, CEO of ARI Packaging in Alsip, is an investor in the Cincinnati Reds and also happens to be African-American. Debra Cafaro, chairman and CEO of Ventas health care real-estate investment company, recently became a minority owner of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Neither returned requests for comment.