Owners and donors

Sports with Sophie

I was scrolling through the MLB section of “Sporting News,” pleased with the multitude of headlines that praised the Chicago Cubs for their performance on the road to the playoffs so far, when a less attractive article regarding my home team caught my eye. The headline read “Joe Ricketts plans to donate $1M to support Donald Trump campaign” with a picture of the entrance to my beloved Wrigley Field right under it.

I didn’t make the connection at first — after all, how many of us actually know the name, let alone any other information, about the owners of our cities’ sporting teams? Well, it turns out that the Ricketts family owns the Chicago Cubs and has since 2009. Joe Ricketts’ son, Thomas, is the majority owner, but Joe’s three other children, as well has he and his wife, own considerable shares of the team.

This puts me in a moral bind: I’m a born and raised Chicagoan and Cubs fan, but I’m also a staunch liberal. I am firmly against nearly everything that Donald Trump stands for and have a hard time reconciling myself with those who support him — but what do I do if one of those supporters owns the only baseball team I have ever rooted for? How do I separate my sporting allegiance from Ricketts’ political one?

I was taken aback by just how many team owners make personal campaign contributions — of sizable amounts — to Republicans and Democrats alike. And some of these funds, if not all of them, could come from revenue generated by their ownership.

George Steinbrenner, perhaps one of the most commonly known owners in history (thank you “Seinfeld”), pleaded guilty in 1974 to making illegal campaign contributions to then-Republican incumbent Richard Nixon. Steinbrenner, who owned the Yankees, was personally fined for the transgression, as was as his company. I’m not sure how many Yankees fans were aware of the scandal, but if more had been, would they have continued to patronize the team as heavily?

And there are countless more: one of the part owners of the Arizona Diamondbacks, Earl Kendrick, reportedly donated $700,000 to Conservative Solutions PAC, a group that supported Marco Rubio for president, early this year. Robert Pohlad, one of the owners of the Minnesota Twins and a chair on the Board of Directors of PepsiCo, has made countless contributions to various Democratic candidates in state elections as well as to Hillary Clinton.

There are without a doubt contributions made to both sides of the aisle, but overwhelmingly monetary support from MLB owners tends to go to more conservative candidates and interest groups. According to a study conducted by the Sunlight Foundation, in the 2012 political cycle, MLB-affiliated donors contributed $18,496,464 to Republican candidates while only donating about $4,271,620 to Democrats.

Baseball fans are not the only consumers who face this moral dilemma — many people have declined to eat at Chick-fil-A because of comments that were made by the owner in regard to his anti-same-sex marriage beliefs. And many refuse to shop at Walmart because of the company’s maltreatment of their employees.

But those boycotts are simpler.

One of the issues is that baseball followers don’t see themselves as consumers — they see themselves as fans. But as fans, they consume goods and products made by the team they support, and in doing so generate a massive amount of income for the owners of those teams. The connection is rarely noticed, but it is a strong one. MLB teams are companies like any others, and, as such, they ultimately exist for the profit of the owner.

But fans’ allegiance does not lie with an owner, and thus that entity is rarely on one’s radar when rooting for a team or purchasing a jersey. That purchase and loyalty, in a way exploitative as it takes advantage of our avid love of a team, can have political and societal ramifications — ones that fans may not be in complete agreement with. The real question, though, is: Should fans care?

And the obvious answer is that, yes, of course they should. I should, and do, care that when I buy a Cubs jersey some of my money could be going to Trump’s campaign. But do I care enough? This could be the first time that my team wins a World Series in more than 100 years, and I want to show my pride in it. So while I am morally opposed to Ricketts’ politics, I am unwaveringly supportive of the team that he owns — leaving me in a quandary between my principles and my devotions.

My predicament, and one that countless other sports fans no doubt face, is essentially unsolvable. It will continue to persist as long as teams are owned by corporate entities that have a vested interest in their own preservation — an interest that will prompt political activity largely contrary to that which would benefit the masses. But the masses, who singularly cannot change the system, will continue to root for the teams run by men who contradict their best interests because, in this case, the result of the game has already been determined.

Sophie Goethals writes the column about social issues in the world of sports and their potential ramifications. Contact her at [email protected]