Maybe it was a crime story he read in the newspaper or perhaps a sobering local TV report, but whatever it was, it prompted White Sox and Bulls Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf to pick up the phone and call the other most influential team executives in the city to combine their activist efforts and form the Chicago Sports Alliance.
Together they donated $1 million to fund training for crime lab analysts, and this week they announced plans to donate another $1 million for more gun violence initiatives.
But there was side effect of working together he hadn’t considered.
“At one point I said to (Sox vice president of communications) Scott Reifert, maybe I made a mistake with this thing because all of sudden you have five people used to running your own organization and now we have to agree with each other on everything. I’m not used to that,” Reinsdorf said in a joking manner. “I’m used to just making the decisions but we were all very simpatico.”
Reinsdorf and his counterparts — his son, Bulls President Michael Reinsdorf, as well as the Blackhawks Chairman Rocky Wirtz, Bears Chairman George McCaskey and Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts — gathered to discuss their partnership to combat the city’s gun violence Friday at a luncheon at the MB Ice Arena.
“I don’t think the sports teams have ever come together like this, here or anywhere else,” Ricketts said. “I think it does speak to the scale of the problem but it also speaks to the commitment of (ownership).”
McCaskey added that Reinsdorf said the “first thing we need to do is to educate ourselves about this problem, and that’s what led us to the University of Chicago Crime Lab. And that was a huge turning point for us as a group, was to get their expertise and their input and their data to help attack this problem.”
This year, the 2-year-old Alliance raised grant money to continue its support of the partnership of the Crime Lab and Choose to Change, which uses mentoring by Youth Advocate Programs and therapy by Children’s Home and Aid.
New this year, the Alliance also is helping fund READI Chicago (Rapid Employment and Development Initiative), an 18-month job training and behavioral therapy program based on research that indicates the combination of therapy and jobs help participants make better decisions during high-stakes situations.
For Michael Reinsdorf, the more he learned about the programs and predictive analytics and how young Chicagoans fall into the trap of gun violence, the more he thought about the daily threats those children face that his own three children will know.
“These kids don’t know when they go to school, the route they take, whether it’s the last day of their lives,” he said.
The Alliance grant helps expand the program to include more young men in the highest risk group for becoming involved in gun violence.
“We don’t want to just write a check, get a photo op and walk away,” McCaskey said. “We want to be invested in it, (and) not just financially.”
The collaboration by Chicago’s five major sports franchises also echoes a trend in some of the major sports leagues to increase their involvement in community activism and social justice efforts.
Tim Anderson, Jason Heyward, Jose Abreu and Kyle Schwarber are some of the players local team executives held up as doing activist work.
In March, McCaskey and Bears linebacker Sam Acho discussed prison reform as they toured the Louisiana State Penitentiary. And both were involved in an $813,850 donation from Bears players and staff as well as the foundations of the Bears and the NFL to award grant money to five Chicago-area youth programs earlier this month.
“Sam has been educating me about some of these problems,” McCaskey said. “We went on a ride-along with the Chicago police department and we’re in the squad car for five minutes and sure enough (we hear) the ‘shots fired’ call and take off. That was a sobering experience.”
“Sam and other players and I went down and spoke to the (Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson). He has been up to Halas Hall to talk to our players. Our guys want to be part of the solution and we’re proud of them for doing that.”