Gaining notoriety for its historical financial support of anti-LGBTQ organizations, fast-food restaurant Chick-fil-A, it was recently reported, has continued to donate to such causes to the tune of $1.8 million, according to recently released tax documents.
Some seven years ago, you may recall, the company was thrust into the center of a national controversy when its funding of anti-LGTBQ organizations came to light. At the time, CEO Dan Cathy defiantly defended, indeed celebrated, this philanthropy, declaring that marriage equality proponents “have the audacity to define what marriage is about” and were “inviting God’s judgment on our nation.”
Nonetheless, the company pledged to refrain from funding such organizations as the Family Research Counsel and the conversion therapy group Exodus International, both designated by the Southern Poverty Law Center as hate groups. Apparently the company has not honored this promise to stop funding hate.
These revelations notwithstanding, the calls for boycotts have lost traction, as Ruth Graham charts on Slate.com, pointing out that progressives have somehow and for some reason effectively forgiven Chick-fil-A. Appetites for chicken have, perhaps, overwhelmed the progressive movement’s moral conscience and overpowered its appetite for social justice and inclusion. So, it seems, consumers continue to financially underwrite hate in the United States, putting their money quite literally where their mouths are, not where their politics are.
One wonders if the Chicago Cubs, valued at $2.9 billion, will similarly escape accountability for their connections to and apparent support for right-wing extremism, racism, and every other manner of hate the Trump presidency openly and defiantly espouses.
The Ricketts family, who own the Cubs, have manifold connections to Trump as well as their own history of hateful expressions.
Last February, a series of racist and Islamophobic e-mails surfaced that were sent and received by Joe Ricketts, the family’s patriarch whose fortune, amassed in his role as chairman of TD Ameritrade, largely financed the family’s purchase of the historic Major League Baseball franchise.
Of course, the progeny made every effort to distance their father from the organization, the family’s cash cow. Tom Ricketts, the most visible ownership face of the franchise, was quick to assert, “Those aren’t the values that my family was raised with. I have to be honest, I was surprised to see the emails. Our family was never raised that way. I never heard my father say anything that was remotely racist.” He was quick to stress that the father had no part in the everyday operations of the organization, though of course Joe’s fortune made ownership of the Cubs possible.
Hmmmm. Ok. Then what about the following facts:
*Brother Todd Ricketts, a member of the TD Ameritrade board of directors, was announced early last February as finance chairman of the Trump Victor Committee, a joint venture between the RNC and Trump’s campaign.
*Pete Ricketts, another of the brothers, currently serves as the Republican Governor of Nebraska and endorsed Donald Trump in the 2016 campaign.
*Joe Ricketts, a GOP mega-donor, founded the super PAC Future 45, which Federal Election Commission reports indicate spent some $15 million on anti-Clinton and pro-Trump advertisements during the 2016 election campaign.
*In February the Cubs announced it was inking a deal to launch the new Marquee Sports Network with Sinclair Broadcast Group.
Does the name Sinclair Broadcast Group ring a bell? Maybe you’ll remember it as the broadcast group exposed for sending scripts for “Must-Air” segments to its local networks with mandates that anchors read these scripts word for word on air, violating every norm of journalistic and media integrity. Known as right-wing news network, the group owns 193 local stations.
The family has long tried to downplay its political ties, though reports indicate the family’s wealth has funded political campaigns for decades.
While it’s true that sister Laura Ricketts is an avowed progressive, espousing politics contrary to those of Pete and Todd, we have to remember that Betsy Devos also owns a minority stake in the Cubs because of her relationship with the family.
So, on the whole, consumers who give their money to the Cubs are sure to be contributing to the right-wing extremism the bulk of the Ricketts family supports and funds.
Fandom, of course, is a funny thing, often obsessive and irrational, as Nick Hornby so deftly explores in his personal memoir Fever Pitch, narrating his life as a soccer fan. The book later became the basis for film by the same name about a Boston Red Sox fan. Our connections to our sports team tend to control us, to choose us, and our affections get deeply rooted.
Anyone who knows a Cubs fan knows this. The team suffered over a hundred years without achieving a World Series championship, and Cubs fans suffered right with them, a diehard breed indeed.
It seems to be that it might be harder for Cubs fans to boycott their team than for chicken-eaters to give up Chick-fil-A.
But we have to face that this one of the political challenges we face, figuring out how not give our resources to the powers that fund inhumanity and hate.
Wrigley Field has long been known as the “friendly confines.” To me those confines look increasingly and intolerably unfriendly to a humane conscience.
The question remains as to whether the fanatical passion of Cubs fans will overwhelm their moral faculties and continue to fund the hateful passions the Ricketts family underwrites.
Tim Libretti is a professor of U.S. literature and culture at a state university in Chicago. A long-time progressive voice, he has published many academic and journalistic articles on culture, class, race, gender, and politics, for which he has received awards from the Working Class Studies Association, the International Labor Communications Association, the National Federation of Press Women, and the Illinois Woman’s Press Association.
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