CHICAGO — The family that owns the Chicago Cubs was doing damage control Tuesday after a web site published a series of emails from patriarch Joe Ricketts that revealed racist and anti-Muslim sentiments.
Ricketts, the founder and former CEO of TD Ameritrade, helped his family bankroll the more than $800 million purchase of the Cubs, Wrigley Field, and 25% of the cable station Comcast Sportsnet Chicago in 2009 by selling 34 million shares of the online brokerage firm.
Ricketts, 77, apologized in a statement for the content of his emails that were published by the website Splinter News. His son, Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts, called the father’s emails “racially insensitive” and said “the language and views expressed in those emails have no place in our society.”
He also sought to distance his father, a longtime backer of conservative politicians, from the baseball franchise, one of baseball’s most valuable and iconic Major League teams.
“My father is not involved with the operation of the Chicago Cubs in any way,” Tom Ricketts said in a statement. “I am trusted with representing this organization and our fans with a respect for people from all backgrounds. These emails do not reflect the culture we’ve worked so hard to build at the Chicago Cubs since 2009.”
Beyond their ownership of the Cubs, three of the elder Joe Ricketts’ children play high-profile roles in American politics. Pete Ricketts, a Republican, is the governor of Nebraska, and Todd Ricketts is the Republican National Committee finance chairman. His daughter, Laura Ricketts, is a prominent Democratic fundraiser and leader on LGBT issues.
Cubs executives on Tuesday also reached out to members of Chicago’s Muslim community as they tried to soften blowback from the offensive emails.
“Tom and Cubs executive Julian Green (the Cubs vice president of communications and community affairs) spoke to one of the representatives of the community this morning and reached out to others,” Dennis Culloton, the Ricketts family spokesman, told USA TODAY. “We hope there will be a meeting or meetings.”
The emails, from 2009 to 2013, included the elder Ricketts forwarding racist jokes and conspiracy theories and a message to his son, Pete, in which he refers to Islam as a “cult.”
Joe Ricketts made the comment after Pete — who was elected governor of Nebraska in 2015 — admonished his father for forwarding him an email chain titled “Americans believe in religious freedom — Muslims don’t.”
After his son responded that the elder Ricketts should research such articles before sending them on, Joe Ricketts replied: “Thanks Peter. However, I think Islam is a cult and not a religion. Christianity and Judaism are…based on love whereas Islam is based on ‘kill the infidel’ a thing of evil.”
Pete Ricketts again nudged his father. “I am not sure that your statement is accurate with regards to Islam but I recommend reading the piece on snopes,” he wrote, referring to another web site.
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In a May 2012 email to written someone identified as S.V., Joe Ricketts opines on Iran’s nuclear ambitions. He first prefaces that his views are seen through the lens of someone who is “very conservative and selfish as I look at this as protecting my family.”
“Christians and Jews can have a mutual respect for each other to create a civil society. As you know, Islam cannot do that,” Ricketts said. “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.”
Other emails that Ricketts forwarded debunked “birther” theories that former president Barack Obama was not born in the United States and jokes that used racial epithets for African-Americans and people from the Middle East.
Joe Ricketts expressed regret and apologized for the emails.
“Sometimes I received emails that I should have condemned. Other times I’ve said things that don’t reflect my value system,” Ricketts said in a statement. “I strongly believe that bigoted ideas are wrong.”
Kamran Hussain, president of the city’s Muslim Community Center and 15-year season ticket holder, wrote a letter to the Ricketts family Tuesday in which he said the Cubs response had “fallen short and has the ring of PR or ‘damage control’ for most Muslims and others of good conscience in Chicago.” Hussain urged the Ricketts family to meet with Chicago Muslims to clear the air.
Hussain said he long compartmentalized his love for Cubs with his disapproval of Joe Ricketts’ politics.
“I now have kids and they are getting older and they ask about things like Donald Trump and the wall,” Hussain said in an interview. “I don’t think I can keep compartmentalizing those things.”
Some of the emails came in 2012. That year Ricketts had planned to bankroll a Super PAC that would fund racially-tinged, anti-Obama attack ads during the run-up to the 2012 presidential election, according to the New York Times.
Ricketts said he had no plans to run the ads after the New York Times report was published. Still, the episode soured his relationship with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, a former chief of staff to Obama. Emanuel responded by rescinding plans for $150 million in public funding for renovations at Wrigley Field.
Emanuel recalled Tuesday that Ricketts once said that he did not share values with the mayor.
“Truer words were never spoken,” Emanuel said. “The ignorance and intolerance he has espoused are not welcome in Chicago. Those are not the values I learned from my parents, and those are not the values (my wife) Amy and I have instilled in our children. Joe Ricketts should consider himself lucky he has never met my mother. She would teach him a lesson. I am proud not to share his bigoted opinions. Hate has no home in Chicago.”