Monday night, I wrote about the lawsuit a Packers fan had filed against the Bears. Russell Beckman, a Wisconsin resident who is also a Bears season ticket holder, is suing the team because, he claims, they prevented him from going on the field in his Packers gear.
Beckman says he has been a Bears season ticket holder since 2003, and has five season tickets to the Bears (complete with personal seat licenses, though he acquired three of the PSLs more recently). In 2014 and 2015, he used “points” he acquired as a season ticket-holder to get the perk of going on the field before the Packers-Bears game. He prepared to do it again in 2016, but was prevented by the team because he was wearing Packers gear.
This does seem silly, but is it something to file a lawsuit over? (He’s representing himself.) I called up Russell Beckman and ask him about the whole thing. This interview has been edited for style, length and clarity.
So how did you become a Packers fan?
I grew up in the border area between Illinois and Wisconsin. So it’s a territory where a lot of fans will switch alliances based on which team is winning. But I’ve always been loyal to the Packers. I don’t switch sides like my friends do. When the Bears were successful in the 1980s, I was surrounded by Bear fans. And then, when the Packers started to get good in the ‘90s, all these Bear fans converted over to Packer fans and they really haven’t left.
Where do you live now?
I live in Mount Pleasant, Wisconsin, which is Racine County. It’s about 14 miles north of the Wisconsin-Illinois line. If I leave my office I could be in downtown Chicago, with no traffic, in about an hour and 15 minutes.
So why, as a Packers fan, are you a Bears season ticket holder?
The answer’s nothing mysterious. 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.
What do you do with the tickets for the other games?
The only game that I go to every year in Chicago is the Bears-Packers game. I will sell some of the tickets. I end up giving a lot of these tickets away because, quite obviously, the Bears have not had a very good product on the field the last couple years. You can’t sell all these tickets.
What is your experience like as a Packers fan at the Bears game every season?
I go to a lot of away games…Yeah, you’re going to run into drunken jerks. That happens. But I’m pretty respectful. I treat people well. I’m not looking for a confrontation. I’m looking for a fight. And people understand that generally people are OK because they respect the rivalries that go on.
Now, in Chicago I sit in a section, with season tickets, there’s this same group of people year after year. We see each other once a year. And, you know, I look forward to seeing them and they look forward to seeing me. In fact, one of these guys called me up after he saw the lawsuit and he said “I can’t believe this happening. If you need a character witness, I’ll be the guy!” Except for that drunken jerk of a fan—which you can get anywhere, we have those fans in Green Bay—it’s generally OK.
You were on the field in Packers gear twice, per your lawsuit, as an invited season-ticket holder. What was it like?
I was able to go on to the field for the pre-game warm up as a perk because I’m a season ticket holder. This is not something that the average fan is allowed to do. But because I have season tickets, and the longevity and the number of season tickets and my personal licenses, there’s some algorithm that the Bears will spit out these points for their rewards program which you can use to then purchase these fan experiences.
And what I did was pick the Bears-Packers game to go out during pre-game warm-up. There were no issues in 2014 and 2015 and I was flying my Packer colors both years. It was a cool experience. Everyone who’s a football fan should get to do that. It’s really, really neat.
Did anyone say anything about your outfit?
Not that I’m aware of. That doesn’t mean there weren’t people with issues, but I didn’t hear anything.
So what happened last season before the Packers-Bears game?
I was given advanced warning. In fact, I had attempted the entire week before to resolve this issue with the Bears. There were telephone phone calls, there were emails exchanged. And, basically, that’s the last email… I told him I disagree with you, and I’m going to show up wearing my Packer gear so you could formally deny me access.
It would be silly and just terrible to have a confrontation over this. I mean, I was well aware that I would be denied. But it was a matter of me going through the process because I thought that even at that time, because the Bears are so adamant, that this may turn out to be an issue that would be litigated.
What happened when you got the first notice you wouldn’t be allowed on the field in your Packer gear?
I called up my ticket rep and I said, “Hey, I got this email here and it has this language, tell me what that’s about.” And she confirmed it. My ticket rep in the Bears ticket office knows I’m a Packers fan. She said, “Hey, Russ, you’re right, you can’t go on the field in your Packers stuff.” And so then it just went from there.
I have no issues at all with the Bears employees. They treat me like gold, I think the world of them. I tried so hard to resolve this issue, but it wasn’t resolved and here we are in court, right?
So why file a lawsuit?
In early January, I mailed an appeal to Roger Goodell, which was probably more detailed than what it needed to be. What I really was hoping was that the NFL commissioner would intervene and stop this nonsense. In fact, even in that appeal, I told them point blank: This will be resolved or I will be filing a lawsuit.
I gave him 60 days. Of course, I waited longer. We have all had things going on. But ultimately when I never heard from him, I decided to do this. But I’m not going to pay $10,000 for an attorney. Maybe some people will think I’m foolish to do that. That old cliche, “someone who represents themselves has a fool for a client.” But you know what, this is not something earthshaking. The worst thing that happens is I lose, but I’m not in any peril. But I think the stakes in this are straightforward enough.
What has the reaction been like?
I’ve heard a lot from reporters. I have not faced a hostile interviewer, however. Now, maybe you could be that guy. I don’t know. I think people understand the big picture, and know that I’m really not trying to make this into a big deal. I mean this is not some noble crusade I am on. This is all about me. I have an issue with the Bears about a very specific thing. We can’t resolve it so we’re going to court.
Below is Beckman’s lawsuit against the Bears.