Russell Beckman, a season ticket-holder for both the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears football teams, sued the Bears and the National Football League (NFL) for allegedly violating his First and Fourteenth Amendment rights, after he was denied entry to the sidelines at Soldier Field, the Bears’ home stadium, because he was wearing Packers apparel.
Russell Beckman is a high school teacher and longtime Packers fan who resides in Mount Pleasant, Wisconsin, which is located on the western shore of Lake Michigan between Green Bay, Wisconsin, and Chicago, Illinois. On December 18, 2016, Bears representatives prevented him from entering Soldier Field to watch the team’s pre-game warm-ups, though he had purchased tickets for the experience.
The Chicago Bears is the professional football team based in Chicago. It has a notorious rivalry with the Green Bay Packers, based nearby in Wisconsin. The Bears have a point-based reward system for season ticket-holders, which gives them access to various prizes and “experiences,” including the opportunity to watch the team’s pre-game warm-ups.
For more than 15 years, Beckman has purchased season tickets for both the Packers’ and the Bears’ games. He explained to the Green Bay Press Gazette that he enjoys following the teams’ rivalry, and attends the annual game between them at Soldier Field every year. As a season ticket-holder and the owner of a personal seat license, which enables him to sit in the same seat at every game, Beckman is awarded points (based on a formula created by the Bears) that he can use to “buy” merchandise or participate in special experience programs. Buying tickets to the latter allows him — as he wrote in his June 16, 2017 lawsuit — to enjoy watching from the sidelines as the team warms up. Beckman purchased three tickets for the “pre-game warm-up field experience” that would occur before the Bears-Packers game on December 18, 2016.
Beckman claimed in his suit that when he and a friend had purchased tickets for the same sort of experience in 2014 and 2015, both were allowed to wear Packers apparel on the field. This time, Beckman said, he was told by representatives of the Bears that “No opposing team gear will be allowed.” He exchanged a series of emails with them in the days leading up to the game, explaining that he planned to wear Packers gear to the game and during the sideline warm-up experience ahead of it. They told him again explicitly that he would not be allowed to participate if he arrived wearing Packers apparel.
When he arrived at the game in question, Beckman was denied entry to the team warm-up, despite the fact that he had “purchased” a ticket using his accumulated points. His two companions, who were not wearing Packers apparel, were allowed entry to the sidelines.
In May 2017, the Bears informed Beckman that he had once again received enough points for the sideline warm-up experience, and he “bought” four of these tickets for the November 12, 2017, Bears-Packers game. After buying these tickets, according to Beckman’s suit, he again received an email informing him that no visiting team clothing would be allowed. Beckman complained in his suit that he would “continue to be denied access to this experience simply because [I am] dressed in opposing team gear.”
Beckman says he wrote a letter to Roger Goodell, the commissioner of the NFL, explaining his situation and requesting that Goodell press the Bears to change this policy. He received no reply.
He then filed a lawsuit against the Bears and the NFL in United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, complaining that they had violated his First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. The Gazette reported that Beckman’s argument hinged on the idea that the Bears are a state actor; because the team leases Soldier Field from the Chicago Park District, he contended, their finances and operations are intertwined to such a degree that what happens at Soldier Field is a public, rather than private, activity.
NFL suit dismissed, Bears suit allowed to proceed
Beckman’s complaint against the NFL was dismissed on March 30, 2018. The judge decided that his suit against the Bears, however, could proceed. Beckman said he does not want to profit from the suit, and only wants to be reimbursed for court fees. According to the Gazette, his desired outcome is simply for the Bears to change their policy and allow him to watch warm-ups from the sidelines while wearing Packers apparel.
Chicago Bears file motion for reconsideration
After the judge decided Beckman’s suit against the Bears could move forward, the team filed a motion to reconsider this ruling. This motion delayed the planned proceedings of the court until the judge rules on the Bears’ motion for reconsideration. As of June 27, 2018, no decision had been reached.
Prepared by Gustav Honl-Stuenkel ‘20
Uploaded June 28, 2018