Home » News » Does man have First Amendment right to wear Packers jersey to Bears event?

By David L. Hudson Jr., published on April 8, 2018

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Photo of Russell Beckman in Packers jersey, part of federal lawsuit exhibit. A judge allowed a First Amendment claim to proceed against the Chicago Bears even though the NFL team is not a government entity because of its extensive relationship with Chicago Park District, which is a government entity.

A man denied access to an National Football League (NFL) pre-game event at Soldier Field in Chicago for wearing a Green Bay Packers jersey has stated a First Amendment claim against the Chicago Bears, a federal district court judge has ruled.


Russell Beckman, a season-ticket and personal seat license (PSL) holder to Bears games, sought access to a pre-game event at Soldier Field, a publicly financed facility under the control of the Chicago Park District (CPD).


Apparently, Beckman was denied entrance because he wore a Packers jersey. In 2017, Beckman told Deadspin: “I acquired Bear tickets a long time ago because I always wanted to have tickets to the Bears-Packers game in Chicago every year at face value. That’s the only reason I’m a Bears season ticket holder.”


Beckman filed a lawsuit in federal court against the Chicago Bears and the NFL, alleging his First Amendment rights were violated. On March 30, 2018, U.S. District Court Judge Joan B. Gottschall dismissed his claim against the NFL but ruled his claim against the Bears could proceed in Beckman v. Chicago Bears Football Club, Inc.


Gottschall ruled that Beckman lacked standing to sue the NFL, because no injury could be traced to conduct by the NFL. The Bears were the entity that denied Beckman access to Soldier Field, the stadium where the Bears play their games.


The Bears argued that the case against it also should be dismissed, because the Bears are a private entity. First Amendment claims only can be brought against governmental entities or state actors – or against private actors that are closely entwined or connected with state actors.


Relationship with Chicago government is “enmeshed enough” to find a state action


Gottschall declined to dismiss Beckman’s claim on state-action grounds, because of the relationship between the Chicago Bears and the Chicago Park District. She wrote that Beckman’s complaint states a “plausible claim that the CPD and the Bears’ operations are enmeshed enough to find a state action in the Bears’ administration of PSL programs.”


The complaint also alleged a claim of viewpoint discrimination, because Beckman could wear Chicago Bears apparel to the pre-game event at Soldier Field but not the apparel of a visiting team like the Packers.


The judge wrote that “the complaint states a claim that the CPD cannot, via the Bears, do the same thing any more than it could keep anyone wearing green (or not wearing green) out of Solder Field on St. Patrick’s Day.”



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