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When politics become a contact sport: The media continues to whip up a storm about team owners, but fans will likely stick to sports

Marlee Chlystek | The DePaulia

Marlee Chlystek | The DePaulia

Marlee Chlystek | The DePaulia

When politics become a contact sport: The media continues to whip up a storm about team owners, but fans will likely stick to sports

February 25, 2019

It’s been a hard offseason for Chicago Cubs fans. Instead of signing big name players like Bryce Harper or adding depth to the bullpen, the team has been plagued by a series of PR controversies. 

The Cubs signed shortstop Addison Russell on Jan. 11, who will start the 2019 season serving a 40-game suspension for domestic abuse allegations. Todd Ricketts, co-owner of the team, was named the finance chair of the Trump Victory Committee on Feb. 1. The committee fund raises for the Republican National Convention and Trump’s re-election campaign. Joe Ricketts,the patriarch of the family of owners, had several emails that included racist and Islamophobic content leaked to the public on Feb. 4. The team announced the launch of a new exclusive television network for the Cubs that partners with the conservative Sinclair Broadcast Group on Feb. 13. All of these moves have brought negative press the Cubs’ way and left a bad taste in the mouths of some fans. 

As the Cubs wade through this bad press, the situation can make fans wonder: What do they do when the politics of their teams do not line up with their own? This happens often throughout professional sports, not just in the MLB. In 2014, the NBA banned former Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling for life after audio of him asking his mistress not to bring black people to his games was leaked.  The Cleveland Browns signed NFL running back Kareem Hunt on Feb. 11, less than three months after TMZ released a video showing him assaulting a woman in a hotel hallway. The reigning NFL champions, the New England Patriots, are a team whose owner Robert Kraft, head coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady are all friends of Donald Trump. Kraft’s shortcomings don’t end with Trump — on Feb. 22, he was charged with two counts of sex solicitation at a Florida spa.

So what do you do when the owners of your favorite team support causes that you don’t? For Ryan Witry, a 21-year-old DePaul student and Cubs fan, it’s a bit harder to root for the team when he knows what’s going on behind the scenes. 

“I’m not saying I necessarily need teams and organizations to agree with me 100 percent,” Witry said. “But it’s hard to root for an organization that is so closely connected with politicians and causes that are categorically opposed to my own beliefs.”

“All this stuff is concerning, but I don’t root for the owners. Most owners end up being rich, old, white men, so I’m not surprised they have these views, but I’m not going to stop supporting the players.””

— Abbas Dahodwala, Cubs fan

Meanwhile, Abbas Dahodwala, a 21-year-old Muslim Cubs fan, believes you can still root for the team while not supporting the decisions of the owners. 

“All this stuff is concerning, but I don’t root for the owners,” Dahodwala said. “Most owners end up being rich, old, white men, so I’m not surprised they have these views, but I’m not going to stop supporting the players.”

Sean Anderson, a 21-year-old Patriots fan, tends to think of his fandom as cheering on the team for their work on the field, rather than what they do off of it.

“I’m not admiring them as people,” Anderson said. Rather, he admires the work ethic and skill that Brady and the team have. He also mentions the fact that Kraft, Belichick and Brady tend not to talk much about their relationship with Trump; their relationships with the president are framed more so as old friendships rather than political connections, so it’s easier to ignore.

So what is the right thing to do in this situation? It’s hard to say that there’s a 100 percent right decision. It all depends on the individual. It’s one thing just to root for a team you’ve cheered on for your whole life. If you’re spending money on the team, however, and now that that money could be going to causes you are politically against, that could be a more difficult cost to pay. 

The majority of fan bases may not care about this either; attendance for Patriots home games over the past 12 years has remained around a range of 550,000 total attendees, and Clippers attendance didn’t change much after Sterling was banned. Since the Cubs won it all in 2016, their home attendance numbers have actually been decreased by a very small margin each year. But based on those teams’ records, this offseason of controversy may not do much damage to attendance when the MLB season begins on March 28. After all, as Dahodwala said, “in the end, you root for the players.” The game is what’s important. 

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