The billionaire patriarch whose family owns the Chicago Cubs and iconic Wrigley Field this week joined a long, infamous list of people connected to sports franchises who stirred controversy with ignorant and racist statements.
Joe Ricketts, 77, who isn’t directly involved with team operations, was the subject of a Splinter News story that revealed old emails in which he expressed fear of Muslims and shared racist jokes.
“Christians and Jews can have a mutual respect for each other to create a civil society. As you know, Islam cannot do that,” Ricketts, who founded TD Ameritrade, wrote in a 2012 email. “Therefore we cannot ever let Islam become a large part of our society. Muslims are naturally my (our) enemy due to their deep antagonism and bias against non-Muslims.”
Ricketts’ son, team chairman Tom Ricketts, has apologized, saying in a statement “the language and views expressed in those emails have no place in our society.”
“These emails do not reflect the culture we’ve worked so hard to build at the Chicago Cubs since 2009.”
“I deeply regret and apologize for some of the exchanges I had in my emails,” the elder Ricketts said in a statement. “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.”
Here are others connected to professional sports franchises whose comments made headlines:
Houston Texans owner Bob McNair
After former pro quarterback Colin Kaepernick pioneered the kneeling National Anthem protests over what he said was social and racial injustice, the late Houston Texans owner Bob McNair complained. In 2017 he said, “We can’t have the inmates running the prison” while discussing the protests at a meeting between owners, team executives and National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell, according to Bleacherreport.com.
In a statement posted to Twitter by the team, McNair later apologized.
“I regret that I used that expression,” the statement said. “I never meant to offend anyone and I was not referring to our players. I used a figure of speech that was never intended to be taken literally. I would never characterize our players or our league that way and I apologize to anyone who was offended by it.”
But McNair took back the apology a year later. He said he was actually referring to league executives when he used the term “inmates,” not players, according to Bleacherreport.com.
McNair died of cancer in November at age 81.
Former Atlanta Hawks controlling owner Bruce Levenson
Bruce Levenson, who served as Atlanta Hawks managing partner and team representative on the NBA Board of Governors, sold his controlling stake in 2014 after sending an email he said was “inappropriate and offensive.”
In a 2012 email addressing the troubles the franchise faced in attracting more affluent white season-ticket holders, Levenson referred to what he saw around the arena where his team played.
First, he wrote, the spectators were 70% black. The stadium’s bars were 90% black. There were few fathers with sons at games. The cheerleaders were black. Hip-hop always blared in the arena. Rap or gospel acts dominated the postgame entertainment.
“Then I start looking around at other arenas. It is completely different. Even (Washington) DC with its affluent black community never has more than 15 pct black audience,” he wrote.
He didn’t stop there. In the email to then-Hawks General Manager Danny Ferry, Levenson wrote that before his Atlanta Spirit Group bought the Hawks in 2003, thousands of tickets were dispersed, mostly in the black community, to make the arena appear less empty. The ticket giveaways continued after the Atlanta Spirit Group took over.
“My theory is that the black crowd scared away the whites and there are simply not enough affluent black fans to build a significant season ticket base,” he wrote. “I never felt uncomfortable, but I think Southern whites simply were not comfortable being in an arena or at a bar where they were in the minority.”
Though Levenson derided as “racist garbage” claims on fan websites that the arena was unsafe or in a bad part of town, he also said he had “bitched that the kiss cam is too black” and demanded “white cheerleaders” and “music familiar to a 40-year-old white guy.”
Former Atlanta Hawks general manager Danny Ferry
Former Hawks GM Danny Ferry also came under fire for racist statements in 2014.
The remarks involved South Sudan-born player Luol Deng and were made during a conference call about free agents.
“Ferry talked about the player’s good points, and then went on to describe his negatives, stating that ‘he has a little African in him. Not in a bad way, but he’s like a guy who would have a nice store out front but sell you counterfeit stuff out of the back,’” said a letter from J. Michael Gearon Jr., a minority owner of the Hawks.
The general manager also described the player “as a two-faced liar and cheat,” the letter said.
“We were appalled that anyone would make such a racist slur under any circumstance, much less the GM of an NBA franchise on a major conference call. … Ferry’s comments were so far out of bounds that we are concerned that he has put the entire franchise in jeopardy,” Gearon wrote.
Ferry later apologized for what he said were “insensitive remarks.”
“I was repeating comments that were gathered from numerous sources during background conversations and scouting about different players,” he said in a statement released by the Hawks.
“I repeated those comments during a telephone conversation reviewing the draft and free agency process. Those words do not reflect my views, or words that I would use to describe an individual and I certainly regret it.”
In September 2014, Ferry took an indefinite leave of absence from the team.
Former Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling
Former Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling was banned for life from the NBA in 2014 after the revelation of inflammatory statements he made during a recorded conversation with friend V. Stiviano.
In a 10-minute audio clip posted by TMZ, Sterling chastised Stiviano for posting pictures online of herself with African-Americans, including basketball Hall of Famer Earvin “Magic” Johnson.
According to TMZ, Sterling made the comments during an argument with Stiviano, who is part African-American.
“In your lousy f***ing Instagrams, you don’t have to have yourself with – walking with black people,” he said.
“If it’s white people, it’s OK?” asked Stiviano, according to the recording. “If it was Larry Bird, would it make a difference?”
In another recording released later, Sterling, a married lawyer and billionaire real-estate investor, explained he was jealous Stiviano was with black men.
“The girl is black. I like her. I’m jealous that she’s with other black guys. I want her. So what the hell, can I in private tell her, you know, ‘I don’t want you to be with anybody’?” Sterling said in the new tape, according to RadarOnline.
In May 2014, Sterling told CNN he was sorry for what he said but felt he was “baited.”
“When I listen to that tape, I don’t even know how I can say words like that. … I don’t know why the girl had me say those things,” he said.
“You’re saying you were set up?” CNN’s Anderson Cooper asked.
“Well yes, I was baited,” Sterling said. “I mean, that’s not the way I talk. I don’t talk about people for one thing, ever. I talk about ideas and other things. I don’t talk about people.”
Former Cincinnati Reds owner Marge Schott
Marge Schott, who owned the Reds from 1984 through 1999, was known to use slurs to refer to African-Americans, Jews and LGBTQ people, according to Bleacherreport.com.
In the 1990s, Major League Baseball repeatedly suspended Schott over racist and other controversial comments, and she ultimately sold the franchise.
MLB hit her with a one-year suspension and a fine after she was quoted in 1992 as saying, “Hitler was good in the beginning, but he went too far,” according to the Society for American Baseball Research.
In 1996, she was suspended again after more praise of Hitler and insults of Asian-Americans and LGBTQ people, SABR reported.