On a scorching June afternoon, historic Wrigley Field served as the backdrop.
Chicago Cubs co-owner Laura Ricketts occupies a rare position within men’s professional sports leagues. She is one of the few women currently at the property level. And as chairman of the Cubs Charities board of directors, Ricketts has seen firsthand how sports can impact communities.
Though she didn’t grow up with aspirations for a sports career, Ricketts says she was the best athlete in her family.
“My brothers probably wouldn’t agree with that, but my mom won’t. She knows it,” Ricketts said with a smile during a recent interview with the Tribune. “So that was my thing.”
Born five years before Title IX passed in 1972, Ricketts was among the first generation of girls to benefit from the amendment, which included opportunities in sports. She recalled playing T-ball at age 5 and, by the time she got to high school, volleyball, softball, basketball, and track and field filled her schedule. She has recently started playing tennis with her wife, Brooke.
“It’s hard to overstate how it has impacted my life, and honestly made me who I am today,” Ricketts said of the sports. “Sports teach you to be a teammate, they teach you to push yourself, they teach you to work very hard, they teach you about resilience, they teach you that there is no shame in failing as long as you try or try something. new.
“I know that all of that influenced my development and I know who I am to this day.”
Ricketts also has the distinction of being Major League Baseball’s first openly gay owner. Ricketts, who was out when his family bought the Cubs in 2009, acknowledges that breaking barriers can be a burden; however, she believes it is an opportunity.
“I may be a queer woman, but I’m also a white woman,” Ricketts said, “so imagine being a black or brown queer woman, or just imagine being a limited-resource black or brown human being in this country, right? ? ? I don’t know what it’s like to walk in her shoes, but I can have the beginnings of an understanding of what it’s like not to be equal and to be considered as the other. I have this incredible access and incredible privilege.
“Obviously it comes up in baseball. … I have the credibility as the queer person in the room to leeway the conversation and allow people to grow and learn from it.”
Her background in sports helped Ricketts navigate Michigan law school and eventually become a lawyer, in a competitive and largely male environment. Ricketts remembers the women in law school forming a study group, cheering each other on and supporting each other. In the years since, this dynamic has developed for Ricketts through her work locally and nationally.
In addition to leading the Cubs’ charitable efforts and creating youth programming, Ricketts in 2012 co-founded LPAC, the first queer women-focused super PAC that endorses and supports candidates committed to LGBTQ+ and women’s equality and social justice. She has also served on the boards of the National Leadership Council for Lambda Legal, an LGBTQ+ civil rights nonprofit, and EMILY’s List, an organization working to elect pro-choice Democratic women. .
“I am well aware of the unique position I am in,” Ricketts said. “I’m happy to say it’s not as unique as it was 10 years ago, but for women in professional sports, it still feels like a trickle and it’s a lot of effort to get more. But I feel like little by little we are gaining momentum. The people in these roles, the impact it has is immeasurable, so I feel that responsibility.”
A great project awaits Ricketts and the organization through Cubs Charities. They are set to build an urban youth academy to house some of their sport-based youth development programs for boys and girls. The project is expected to be officially announced in the near future.
The academy will feature sports fields, including at least one indoor field and a community center. It is expected to be built in an area of Chicago that needs investment but will attract young people from all over the city.
“We really strive to be the best, and in the case of Cubs Charities, it doesn’t just mean the way we conduct our business or our staff,” Ricketts said. “It’s not just to be the best but to show the impact you can have and be a model for other teams. We want to be the team that other teams look up to and say, ‘Let’s go talk to the Cubs and see what they did because they’re doing well,’ in terms of diversity, equity and inclusion.”
Ricketts has seen progress in the diversity of the Cubs’ front office staff with just under 40% of them being women, noting, “We should be at 51% in my estimation.” He wants to do more, including working with Major League Baseball to encourage more equity in the sport. Ricketts, a mother of three, sees this as an area where she can grow because of the visibility of professional sports.
Behind the scenes, Ricketts has been trying to affect change. When the Cubs were looking for a new play-by-play voice for the Marquee Sports Network last year, Ricketts pushed the network’s higher-ups to talk to women for the job. Beth Mowins was eventually hired to call a handful of games. During Cubs board meetings, Ricketts, often the only woman in the room, has made it clear that they need more women and people of color in these roles.
In her post, Ricketts says questions need to be asked about why women can’t be recruited to stay in the organization, or even get in, and points to the need for an environment and culture that helps them rise to the top.
“My personal mission and my personal belief is that we need women in positions of power and leadership. We all need it, not only women need it, but as a society, as a planet”. Ricketts said. “Because if we don’t have women in positions of leadership and power in sports, in government, in politics, in education, in business, we lose.
“We lose what we can be, what we can achieve individually. We lose what we can achieve as a genre. But we are all losing what we can become and what we can achieve as a community and as a society.”
Being part of a family-owned group can lead to more individual scrutiny, particularly when it comes to different policies. While members of his immediate family are notably Republican, Ricketts, a member of the executive committee of the Democratic National Committee, doesn’t feel he should make it a tit-for-tat situation in the public eye.
However, she feels compelled to have conversations with family members to understand where they come from and make them understand her perspective “at least how they talk about things and how they see things, to take that into account, how to see things from someone else’s shoes.”
“When you have a larger media family and everyone is doing a lot of things, everyone is trying to impact the world for what they feel is the highest good of all,” Ricketts said. “And they own a baseball team together and they have that visibility, there’s attention between being known for what you do and who you are and being lumped together with the family as a whole. I would like to be known for what I do, for what I have achieved.”