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Cubs’ Theo Epstein confronted Joe Ricketts’ hate head on — and it was very good

MESA, Ariz. — One of the annual rites of Cubs spring training is learning what slogan manager Joe Maddon has attached to the upcoming season.

Last year it was ‘‘Everybody In,’’ which is a first cousin of ‘‘All In.’’

For atonement purposes, perhaps the Cubs’ slogan this year should be ‘‘Allah In.’’

The Joe Ricketts scandal continues to follow the team, with his Islamophobic emails taking up a large portion of a news conference Tuesday featuring Maddon, president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer. Ricketts is the billionaire father of Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts and the man who funded his children’s quest to buy the franchise in 2009.

Cubs president Theo Epstein called Joe Ricketts' Islamophobic emails "disgusting'' and vowed Tuesday to make the organization more inclusive. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

It wouldn’t be accurate to say the Cubs are trying to distance themselves from Joe Ricketts’ opinions (among them, ‘‘Muslims are naturally my [our] enemy’’). They’re trying to confront those opinions head-on. They’ve realized his worldview is antithetical to what major-league baseball, a mix of different races and cultures, purports to be all about. And they want to do something about it.

They’re grabbing his bullcrap by the horns.

‘‘When you play baseball, when you work in baseball, when you’re around baseball every day, you’re forced to be exposed to and to start to understand and respect everybody’s different backgrounds and to appreciate and celebrate difference and diversity,’’ Epstein said.

‘‘It has been such a force for good, for helping us expand our own views, helping us to develop empathy. If you want to win in baseball, you have to embrace diversity fully. Being around people from different backgrounds has to help you increase your empathy and understand people, or else you won’t last long in this game. That’s honestly what I think of when I think about baseball.’’

As the years have gone on, Maddon’s rah-rah slogans and T-shirts have led to some eye-rolling, but ‘‘Everybody In’’ wasn’t a bad one. It was about players and coaches being on the same winning page. When Joe Ricketts’ views were unearthed, the slogan became the two-word definition of hypocrisy.

‘‘I know it’s an easy target right now, our slogan,’’ Epstein said. ‘‘ . . . But that’s genuinely what I think about when you look across our clubhouse, when you look in our front office, when you look at how we treat each other, when you look at how much respect we have for people of different backgrounds. We do stand for ‘Everybody In.’

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‘‘Now that this has happened, I think the burden falls on us even more, not just to talk about it but to show it, that all fans are welcome. Diversity is to be celebrated. Every different background is to be respected. Everybody is welcome. Everybody in. Now we have a greater burden to show it, but I think this organization is up for that, and that’s something that we look forward to doing over the course of this year.’’

Joe Ricketts’ leaked emails didn’t just offend Muslim-Americans; they offended Cubs fans of all backgrounds. That’s what the organization is up against. Joe Ricketts might not be associated with the team, but he’s the man who helped bring the members of the Cubs’ ownership group into this world. In that sense — the only sense that matters — they’re inseparable.

‘‘It put our fans in a position to have to even consider a connection between those kinds of ugly views — disgusting views — and their favorite team, and the fact that that’s happened is really upsetting,’’ Epstein said. ‘‘That also contributes to the obligation we feel to show that that’s not what we’re all about and that we stand for the opposite.’’

Epstein said the Cubs will follow an actions-not-words approach in dealing with the issue. It will go beyond Tom Ricketts’ recent meeting with Muslim-American groups, he said. And that means looking through the lens of diversity to scrutinize the entire organization, including the front office, Epstein said. A 2018 report from the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida showed a drop-off in major-league teams’ hiring of minorities and women from the year before. The Cubs are better than others, but Epstein has vowed to be an industry leader.

‘‘Diversity is important everywhere, not just because it’s the right thing to do but because it helps you win,’’ he said. ‘‘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, whether it’s within a front office or inside a clubhouse or on a coaching staff or anywhere in the organization.

‘‘And it applies to our fan base, as well. Every single one of our fans should feel as welcome as the next. One of the great things about baseball is when you walk through the turnstiles and you come into the ballpark, you should be able to set aside the problems of the real world for three, 3½ hours and just enjoy the game.

‘‘The reality of the situation now is some of our fans are forced into a position where there are other things that they have to think about.’’’

Maddon said the slogan for this season is ‘‘Own It Now.’’ It refers to ‘‘owning the exact moment that you’re in, whether it’s the at-bat, the pitch — just owning it now,’’ he said.

Right now, the Cubs are trying to own the response to a scandal. It’s all they can do now that hate has crawled into the light.