Russell Beckman, Chicago Bears end lawsuit over Green Bay Packers garb
Russell Beckman, Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears season ticket holder, sued the Bears after he couldn't wear Packers gear on Soldier Field's sidelines. Green Bay Press-Gazette
GREEN BAY – Russell Beckman's lawsuit against the Chicago Bears is over.
Beckman, a Green Bay Packers fan and season-ticket holder for both teams, sued the Bears in federal court because the team would not allow him to wear Packers clothing during a pregame program for Bears season-ticket holders in December 2016. He claimed the Bears, who play in a publicly owned and financed stadium, deprived him of his First Amendment right of freedom of speech.
Beckman and the Bears on Tuesday filed a joint request to dismiss the case. The dismissal requires the approval of U.S. District Judge Joan B. Gottschall.
"The Bears and I have amicably decided to end this case and move ahead," Beckman said in a written statement. "This dispute involved an unsettled area of law. The ultimate outcome of this litigation will remain unresolved and will be subject to continued debate by scholars on both sides."
Beckman's argument was that the Bears lease Soldier Field from the Chicago Park District and their finances and operations intersect with the park district to such a degree it makes the Bears a state actor. In other words, what happens at Soldier Field is a public, not private, activity, as it might be where a team owns its stadium outright.
"I filed this action because I believed that the Bears ownership was disrespecting both the specific (Packers-Bears) rivalry and the fans of all teams who attended games at publicly owned and financed Soldier Field, a venue dedicated to honor the many brave women and men of our armed forces who have served and sacrificed to defend the many rights that too many Americans take for granted. That includes the First Amendment's right of freedom of expression," Beckman said.
The Bears discontinued the season ticket holder program that was the subject of Beckman's lawsuit.
The elimination of the program did not render his lawsuit moot from a legal standpoint, Beckman said, but as a practical matter he wouldn't get to benefit if he prevailed.
"If we continued, it would have involved months of intensive discovery and potentially years of future litigation that would have likely ultimately ended up in the Court of Appeals," he said. "It was time to move on."
The Bears declined to discuss the case.
Beckman initially represented himself in federal court, but in November 2018 secured the services of the First Amendment Clinic at Duke Law School and Chicago attorney Michael Lieber.
The court ruled at one point that Beckman could continue with his suit, before advising him to get legal representation, and at another declined to dismiss the lawsuit at the Bears' request.
"My legal team believes that these decisions lay a firm foundation for any future litigation involving similar cases anywhere in our country," Beckman said. "I believe my case will cause most teams that operate out of publicly owned and financed venues to be more mindful of the need to respect the clothing choices of all fans that attend their games."
Beckman will continue to work with a team of citizen activists to reform how police-involved fatalities are investigated. Beckman was among those who successfully lobbied for a law that requires officer-involved shootings to be independently investigated. Gov. Scott Walker signed the law in 2014, making Wisconsin the first state to do so.
Contact Richard Ryman at (920) 431-8342 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @RichRymanPG, on Instagram at @rrymanPG or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/RichardRymanPG/