Packers fan asks judge to order Bears to let him wear Green Bay gear on Soldier Field sidelines
There are many perks to being a Chicago Bears season ticket holder, including an invitation to be on the team’s sidelines for pregame warmups.
Ticket holder Russell Beckman has been waging a yearslong fight in court for what he says is his right to stand on those sidelines at Soldier Field decked out like the die-hard Green Bay Packers fan he is.
In June 2017, Beckman filed a federal lawsuit in Chicago against the Bears, alleging that in 2016 the team barred him from the pregame event at the Bears-Packers game because of his Packers gear; he sought to prevent that from happening again. The suit also named the National Football League as a defendant.
The lawsuit is pending. But with another Bears-Packers showdown on Dec. 16, less than two weeks away, Beckman is trying to ensure he’ll make it onto the field this time.
Late last week, Beckman’s legal team sought a temporary restraining order and injunction to prevent the Bears from keeping him off the sidelines. He’s already got his go-to outfit planned — multiple strands of colored beads draped around his neck, green dye on his rugged beard, an emerald-green hat and of course, his Packers jersey.
“It’s a ham-handed rule,” said Beckman, 56, a social studies and special education teacher. “They (the Bears franchise) have put every franchise which operates in a public venue in a difficult spot. I wish we could go back in time and they said, ‘You know Russ, you’re right.’ And we wouldn’t have this (lawsuit).”
Meghan Bower, a spokeswoman for the Bears, declined to comment, citing the ongoing litigation.
In the lawsuit, Beckman refers to a program the Bears created for season ticket holders that allows them to cash in points earned through a loyalty program for fan experiences. In 2014 and 2015, Beckman participated in the pregame event wearing his Packers fan gear, according to the suit.
In August 2016, Beckman’s lawsuit alleges, he used his points so three people would be allowed on the sideline before the Dec. 18 Bears-Packers game. Less than a week before the game, he received an email from the Bears stating that fans could not participate in the event while wearing opposing team gear, the suit says. Beckman asked the Bears to reconsider but they declined. He also sent a certified letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, but did not receive a response, according to the lawsuit.
So Beckman showed up at the game in his Packers apparel and accouterments, but was not allowed onto the field, he told the Tribune.
In his suit, Beckman seeks to be allowed to wear his Packers gear to the Bears-Packers pre-game event for season ticket holders. He is asking to recoup his legal fees but has not requested punitive or compensatory damages.
Beckman said he merely wants to enjoy the game his way.
“I believe the ownership will lose in the courtroom since they operate in a taxpayer-owned stadium and this rule is contrary to the public interests,” Beckman said. “I’m a fan of the NFL. I want the Bears-Packers rivalry to be exciting. I want Packers and Bears games to mean something. If you’re a fan of something, you want to claim it.”
Beckman holds five season tickets for Bears games at Soldier Field. He typically sells them but travels from his home in Green Bay to watch the Packers play the Bears in Chicago. He rarely misses a home game at Lambeau Field, where he also holds season tickets.
Beckman represented himself when he filed the suit in 2017. Two attorneys who have taken on his case, Duke University law professor Jeff Powell and Chicago-based lawyer Michael Lieber, argue that since Soldier Field is operated by the Chicago Park District, it is a public facility. The suit also alleges that denying Beckman access to parts of the facility is a violation of his First Amendment rights.
Last year, the Bears asked the judge to dismiss the case. The judge denied the motion; the Bears have asked for a reconsideration of that ruling. The NFL sought to be removed from the case, and the judge granted that request.
“At present the lawsuit is going on (and) the Bears are legally free to enforce their rule, which we regard as unconstitutional. We are asking the court to order the Bears not to enforce the rule,” said Powell, who works with a team of six at Duke Law School’s First Amendment Law Clinic, which takes on cases for clients who demonstrate they can’t afford representation at white-shoe law firms.
A hearing in the case is scheduled for Friday.
If Beckman is denied access to to the sidelines at the Dec. 16 game, he vowed not to back down. “Lord (George) McCaskey (Bears chairman) has picked a fight with the wrong peasant,” he said.