The Packers and Bears resume the oldest rivalry in professional football tomorrow night, with the Bears visiting Lambeau Field for the teams’ 195th meeting. (The series, amazingly, is currently tied 94-94-6.) One man who will be in attendance for the game is Russell Beckman.
Beckman first made headlines back in June, when he filed a lawsuit against the Bears for not letting him wear his Packers jersey on the field. Beckman is a Bears season ticket holder; he likes to have an annual ticket to the Packers-Bears game at Soldier Field, and he gives away (or sells) other tickets. When he selected the season ticketholder perk of being on the field before a game, the team wouldn’t let him wear his Packers jersey at Soldier Field.
When I talked to Beckman, he made sure to note this was “not some noble crusade.” He’d previously been on the field in his Packers gear without incident, and he thought it was just incredibly silly to forbid him from wearing opposing team gear on the field. Who really cares? He wrote and filed the lawsuit himself, so all it was really costing him was his time.
The NFL and Bears’ lawyers responded to his lawsuit with an intent to dismiss motion. Beckman’s lawsuit attracted some attention, and he says he’s gotten some pro bono assistance with filing his response. (I am no legal scholar, but it is obvious that Beckman’s response was written by people with legal training—as opposed to his initial lawsuit.) The NFL and the Bears have until tomorrow—conveniently, the day of the first Packers-Bears game this year—to file their response.
This may not be some moral crusade, but Beckman is really into it. He has gone to considerable lengths to prove his point. To wit: Beckman actually bought a special ticket package to the Bears’ home opener this season. It allowed him to be on the field before the game. He called the company that sold him the ticket package, VividSeats, to make sure it was okay to wear a Falcons jersey. It was.
So Beckman borrowed a Julio Jones Falcons jersey from one of his students—“This was pretty cool,” he says—wore it to the stadium and stood on Soldier Field clad in another team’s gear. Beckman said no one said a word to him about wearing the opposing team’s jersey. In fact, he says there were more than 30 fans wearing Falcons jerseys on the field.
“There were hundreds of Falcons fans wearing Falcons jerseys which is all fine and good people should be able to do this,” Beckman says. “I’m not complaining about it. But the Bears put in their motion to dismiss this sanctimonious language about how we want to cultivate a positive, community spirit for our players and fans. That’s why we don’t let people wear [opposing jerseys]. Right.”
According to an article by Timothy Epstein in the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin, the success of Beckman’s case rests on whether he can show that the Bears are a state actor. Soldier Field is owned by the City of Chicago and operated by the Bears under a long-term lease. Ludtke v. Kuhn, the suit that allowed women access into major league baseball locker rooms, was decided under a similar process: Epstein writes that because (Old) Yankee Stadium was owned by the city and its value depending on the drawing power of the Yankees, the team was a state actor and could not deny first-amendment rights.
In my conversations with Beckman, it’s clear he really, really cares about this small matter. But people care about a lot of things without filing a lawsuit over them. I asked him: Why this? Surely there are other things that have nearly pushed you to action before.
“I love watching NFL games with my children,” Beckman says. “I’m looking forward to doing it with my grandchildren. That’s one of the big reasons why I hold season tickets to two NFL teams. And [the full experience] has been taken away from me. So it just ticks me off!
“And I tried to work with them and tried everything I could so I wouldn’t have to file a lawsuit. I just don’t get it. I think the Bears fans are the greatest people in the world but I don’t understand why the Bears organization is doing this.”