On a hot June afternoon, the historic Wrigley Field provided a fitting backdrop.
Chicago Cubs co-owner Laura Ricketts holds a rare position in the men’s professional sports leagues. She is one of the few women who is currently at the property level. And as chairman of the board of the Cubs Charities, Ricketts saw firsthand how sport can impact society.
Although she didn’t grow up with aspirations for a sports career, Ricketts says she was the top athlete in her family.
“My brothers probably wouldn’t agree with this, but my mom wouldn’t mind. She knows,” Ricketts said with a smile during a recent Tribune interview. “So it was my business.
Born five years after Title IX was passed in 1972, Ricketts was among the first generation of girls to benefit from the amendment, which provided opportunities for sports. She recalled playing teeball at age 5, and by the time she moved into high school, her calendar had filled up with volleyball, softball, basketball, and track and field. She recently started playing tennis with her wife Brooke.
“It’s hard to overestimate the impact this has had on my life – and honestly, made me who I am today,” Ricketts said of the sport. “Sport teaches you to be a teammate, it teaches you to prove yourself, it teaches you to work really hard, it teaches you resilience, it teaches you that there is no shame in failure as long as you try or try to do something. new.
“I know everything that played a role in my development, and I know who I am to this day.”
Ricketts also has the distinction of being the first openly gay owner of Major League Baseball. Ricketts, who was absent when her family bought the Cubs in 2009, admits breaking down barriers can be a burden; however, she believes it is a possibility.
“I may be a queer woman, but I am also a white woman,” Ricketts said, “so imagine you are a queer brown or black woman, or just imagine that you are a black or brown woman with limited resources in this country, right? ? I don’t know what it’s like to walk in their shoes, but I can get a start on what it means to be not equal and be considered different. I have this incredible access and incredible privilege.
“Obviously it happens in baseball. … I have the authority as the queer person in the room to give freedom to talk and let people grow and learn from it.”
Her sports background helped Ricketts navigate Michigan law school and eventually as a lawyer in a competitive, mostly male environment. Ricketts recalls how women in law school formed a study group, encouraging and supporting each other. This dynamic has since played out for Ricketts through her work locally and nationally.
In addition to leading the Cubs’ philanthropy and creating youth programs, Ricketts co-founded LPAC in 2012, the first queer women-focused super-PAC that supports and endorses candidates committed to LGBTQ+, women’s equality, and social justice. She also served on the boards of the National Leadership Council of Lambda Legal, an LGBTQ+ civil rights non-profit organization, and EMILY’s List, an organization that works to elect democratic women who advocate for the right to vote.
“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’s still like a trickle and it’s such a tedious job to get more. But I feel like we’re slowly gaining momentum. The people in these roles, the impact they have is immeasurable, and so I feel this responsibility.”
A big project awaits Ricketts and organization through the Cubs Charities. They are going to build an urban youth academy that will house some of their youth sports development programs for boys and girls. The project is expected to be officially announced soon.
The academy will have sports grounds, including at least one covered backyard area, and a community center. It is expected to be built in an area of Chicago that needs investment but will attract youth from all over the city.
“We really strive to be the best, and in the case of Cubs Charities, that doesn’t just mean how we run our business or our people,” said Ricketts. “It’s not just about being the best, but also about showing the impact you can make and being a role model for other teams. We want to be a team that other teams look at and say, ‘Let’s talk to the Cubs and see what they’ve done because they’re doing it right’ in terms of diversity, fairness and inclusion.”
Ricketts has been successful in diversifying the Cubs front office staff, with just under 40% of them women, noting, “We should have 51% by my estimate.” She wants to do more, including working with Major League Baseball to promote greater fairness in the sport. Ricketts, a mother of three, believes this is an area where she can develop due to the prominence of professional sports.
Behind the scenes, Ricketts tried to influence change. When the Cubs were looking for a new voice for Marquee Sports Network last year, Ricketts pushed network executives to talk to women about the job. In the end, Beth Mowins was brought to justice. name a few games. During Cubs board meetings, Ricketts, often the only woman in the room, made it clear that they needed more women and people of color in these positions.
Ricketts says it’s essential in her position to ask questions about why women can’t be hired to stay in or even get into the organization, noting the need for an environment and culture that will help them rise to the top.
“My personal mission and my personal conviction is that we need women in leadership positions. We all need it, not just women, but society, the whole 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, then we’re missing out.
“We are losing what we can be, what we can achieve individually. We are losing what we can achieve as a gender. But we are all losing what we can become and what we can achieve as a community and as a society.”
Membership in a family ownership group can lead to greater individual control, especially when it comes to different political views. While her next of kin are especially Republicans, Ricketts, Executive Committee Member from the Democratic National Committee, does not believe that she needs to turn this situation into a tit for tat at the public level.
However, she feels compelled to talk to family members to understand where they’re coming from and that they understand her point of view, “at least how they talk about things and how they look at things, take that into account, how to see things from someone else’s shoes.
“When you have a big family of means and they all do a lot of things, they are all trying to influence the world for what they think is the highest good for everyone,” Ricketts said. “And you own a baseball team together, and you have this visibility, there’s a focus between being known for what you do and what you do and being sort of mixed in with the family as a whole. I would like to be known for what I do, what I have achieved.”