On a scorching June afternoon, historic Wrigley Field served as the 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 currently at the property level. And as Chairman of the Board of Cubs Charities, Ricketts has witnessed firsthand the impact sport can have on communities.
Although she didn’t grow up with the aspirations of a career in sports, Ricketts says she was the best athlete in her family.
“My brothers would probably disagree on this, but my mom won’t disagree. She knows,” Ricketts said with a smile during a recent interview with the Tribune. “So that was my thing.”
Born five years after Title IX was passed in 1972, Ricketts was among the first generation of girls to benefit from the amendment, which included opportunities in sports. She remembers playing T-ball at age 5, and by the time she reached high school, volleyball, softball, basketball, and track and field filled her schedule. Recently, she started playing tennis with her wife, Brooke.
“It’s hard to overstate how much of an impact it has had on my life – and it’s made me who I am today, honestly,” Ricketts said of the sport. “Sport teaches you to be a teammate, it teaches you to show off, it teaches you to work really hard, it teaches you resilience, it teaches you that there’s no shame in failing as long as you try hard or try something new.
“I know everyone who has played in my development and who I am to this day.”
Ricketts also holds the distinction of being Major League Baseball’s first openly gay owner. Ricketts, who was absent when her family bought the Cubs in 2009, acknowledges that breaking down barriers can be difficult; 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 queer brown or black woman, or just imagine being a black or brown human being of limited means in this country. I don’t know what it’s like to put yourself in their shoes, but I can begin to understand what it’s like to not be equal and to be seen as the I have this incredible access and this incredible privilege.
“Obviously that happens in baseball. … I have the credibility as a queer person in the room to give space to the conversation and allow people to grow and learn from it.
Her foundation in sports helped Ricketts navigate Michigan law school, and ultimately as a lawyer, in a competitive, male-dominated environment. Ricketts remembers women in law school forming a study group, encouraging and supporting each other. In the years that followed, this dynamic manifested for Ricketts through his work locally and nationally.
In addition to leading the Cubs’ charitable efforts and creating youth programs, in 2012 Ricketts co-founded LPAC, the first queer women-centered super PAC that endorses and supports candidates who are committed to LGBTQ+ and LGBTQ+. 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 that works to elect pro-choice Democratic women.
“I’m very aware of the unique position I’m 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 net and it’s so hard to get more of it. But I feel like we’re slowly building momentum. The people in those roles, the impact that has is immeasurable, and 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 sports-based youth development programs for boys and girls. The project is expected to be officially announced in the near future.
The academy will include sports fields, including at least one indoor field and a community center. It is expected to be built in a Chicago neighborhood that needs investment but will attract young people from across the city.
“We truly strive to be the best, and in the case of Cubs Charities, that doesn’t just mean in how 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 role model for other teams. We want to be the team that other teams turn to and say, ‘Let’s talk to the Cubs and let’s see what they did because they do it well,” in terms of diversity, equity and inclusion.
Ricketts saw progress in the diversity of the Cubs front desk staff with just under 40% women, noting, “We should be at 51% by my estimate.” She wants to do more, including working with Major League Baseball to encourage more fairness in sports. Ricketts, a mother of three, sees this as an area she can grow in due to the visibility of professional sports.
Behind the scenes, Ricketts tried to influence change. When the Cubs were looking for a new play-by-play voice for Marquee Sports Network last year, Ricketts pushed network superiors to talk to women for the job. Beth Mowins was eventually brought in to call a handful of games. At Cubs board meetings, Ricketts, often the only woman in the room, made it clear they needed more women and people of color in those roles.
In her post, Ricketts says one has to ask why women can’t be recruited to stay – or even come into – the organization, noting the need for an environment and culture that helps them achieve the Mountain peak.
“My personal mission and personal belief is that we need women in positions of power and leadership. We all need it, not just women need it, but as a society, as a planet. says Ricketts. “Because if we don’t have women in positions of leadership and power in sport, in government, in politics, in education, in business, then we lose.
“We lose what we can be, what we can achieve individually. We are losing 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 ownership group can bring more individual scrutiny, especially when different policies are involved. While her immediate family members are notably Republicans, Ricketts, a member of the executive committee of the Democratic National Committee, doesn’t think she needs to make this a tit-for-tat situation on a public level.
However, she feels compelled to have conversations with her family members to understand where they are coming from and make them understand her point of view “at least how they talk about things and how they look at things, to take that into consideration, how to see things from someone else’s shoes.
“When you have a bigger family of means and they’re all doing a lot of things, they’re all trying to impact the world for what they think is the greatest good of all,” Ricketts said. “And you own a baseball team together and you have this visibility, there’s a carefulness between being known for what you do and who you are and kind of being lumped together with the family as a whole. I would like to be known for what I do, what I have accomplished.