MESA, Ariz. — Assuming everyone stays upright for long enough, there’ll probably come a time when one must answer for one’s parents. With any luck at all it’ll be about that musty smell or what the deal is with all the cats and not about how one of them might possibly be a conspiracy crank and full-blown bigot.
But, well, Tom Ricketts on Monday morning stood in a small, white cinderblock room, his place at the lectern reserved because he is chairman of the Chicago Cubs, because a new baseball season beckons and, relatedly, because he is a son of Joe Ricketts, who does not collect cats, far as we know.
Joe, 77, billionaire, founder of Ameritrade, and financial might behind the family’s purchase of the Cubs going on 10 years ago, had two weeks before been exposed as racially and religiously intolerant in a series of ugly emails acquired and published by Splinter.com. The cleanup attempts were extensive and featured statements of apology and/or explanation and/or operational distance from the critical parties, though at some point someone with the name Ricketts on his parking spot was going to have to in-person address, as Tom called it Monday morning, “the dad email thing.”
“The dad email thing” had run down pretty much anyone or anything that wasn’t white and privileged, so anyone or anything that wasn’t like Joe and his family, a long list that seemed particularly obsessed with Muslims, including whether Barack Obama was or wasn’t one. While an old white guy in private correspondence railing against what scares him or against that which raises insecurities within himself is perhaps – and sadly – not uncommon, when that old white guy bought the Cubs and handed it to his children, when Wrigley Field is supposed to be baseball Disney, when the franchise may be privately held but is undeniably a public trust, when politics is the family business, the world got rightfully squishy over the whole episode.
This, of course, would lead to one of two reactions at the Ricketts’ compounds: shock and dismay that their patriarch harbors such dark bigotry or oh damn, it got out.
Which brings us back to Tom Ricketts facing the media for his annual we’re-gonna-try-to-win-the-World-Series address, only there wasn’t a lot of time for that considering “the dad email thing”, among other suddenly wobbly Cubs elements (Addison Russell’s personal rehab, for one). Tom would opt for shock and dismay.
“The emails that were in there were unacceptable and have no place,” he said, speaking evenly and reiterating what he’d just told the players in a clubhouse meeting. “My father has no direct control or economic interest in the team. And that doesn’t represent what this organization is. I also said, ‘Look, I’m sorry for the distraction this may have created the last couple days. We need to focus on baseball. We need to get back to our winning ways. We need to get off to a fast start.’ The last thing an organization needs is more off-the-field distractions.”
Joe’s statement after the story appeared said, in part, “I deeply regret and apologize for some of the exchanges I had in my emails. Sometimes I received emails that I should have condemned. Other times I’ve said things that don’t reflect my value system. I strongly believe that bigoted ideas are wrong.”
That, said Tom, was good enough for him. His voice seemed to check up on him a couple times then, and maybe that was from the stress of having to defend a father he reveres or because he was so damned sad about it all or because there would be people out there harmed by more ugly prattle about ethnic and economic and religious and skin-toned superiority. He said his own children had called Joe to say, “We support you,” as probably there comes a time when one must answer for one’s grandparents, too, and hope it’s just the plastic runners on the living room carpet.
“You know, the fact is, he acknowledged that they were inappropriate emails,” Tom said. “He expressed regret. He apologized. Those aren’t the values that my family was raised with. And I have to be honest, I was surprised to see the emails. I’ve never, uh, our family was never raised that way. I’ve never heard my father say anything remotely racist. It just isn’t our family values. So [I] was a little bit surprised. …
“But, you know, I love him. He’s my dad. He’s a great man. He’s done incredible things. He’s helped children all over the world through his charities. He supports 1,700 schools in Africa. All over east Africa, too, or Islamic east Africa. Like, he’s done all the right things. I think he just, um, probably could’ve been more careful about which emails he brought in and a couple he sent. But, like I said, I love him, I don’t see him in that light, I think he’s a great man, and a, and a, just an unfortunate situation.
“I mean, the fact is, we know he’s not that guy. It’s easy to take some emails and try to paint a picture. But, we know who my father is and we know he’s not the person that some of the articles want to make him to be.”
Furthermore, Tom said, Joe is not involved with the Cubs.
“We are related, right?” he said. “He is my father. The dollars that were ultimately used to purchase the club were created by the wealth that he created. Like I said, this has always been an effort by myself and my siblings. He has no operating position or economic interest in the team at all. Obviously I’m not surprised people would associate it with us and the team. … We just took it as an opportunity to do something positive.”
The Cubs released a statement a few hours before Tom Ricketts’ news conference announcing something like a partnership with the Chicago office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. It said that Tom had appeared recently at a meeting of several Muslim groups, “offered a heartfelt apology on behalf of the organization” and expressed hopes of mending torn relationships near and far. Joe, by the account, did not attend.
“[We] acknowledge the fact that whether or not my dad is Cubs owner, those [emails] cause pain and those cause hurt and those are our fans,” Tom would say later. “And we have to do something to reach out to those people. I can’t go back and change an inbox from 12 years ago or eight years ago. And I can’t unpublish emails. But what we can do is use this a chance to do more positive things. That’s something that we — as Joe said today, ‘We own it’ — we have to go out and do what we can to repair the damage that may be created by those emails. And I think we’re off to a pretty good start.”
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