Packers fan’s lawsuit against Bears could impact anthem debate

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As the NFL braces for the NFL Players Association’s potential legal challenge(s) to the new anthem policy, the league should be concerned, at least a little bit, about the possibility of a lawsuit based on the First Amendment.

What’s that, you say? The First Amendment doesn’t apply to private employers? It generally doesn’t. But when private employers put their employees to work in a publicly-funded venue, the analysis possibly changes.

As explained by Andy Grimm of the Chicago Sun-Times, a 2017 lawsuit filed by a Packers fan who had purchased Bears season tickets could potentially open the door for a First Amendment-based attack on the anthem policy.

Russell Beckham argues that the Bears violated his First Amendment rights by preventing him from walking the sidelines while wearing Packers colors during a pregame event for season-ticket holders in 2016. Beckham, who represents himself in the lawsuit, has survived a preliminary effort by the Bears to have the case thrown out of court.

To ultimately win, Beckham may need to show that the Chicago Park District, which owns and operates Soldier Field, had a role in the team’s decision to prevent Beckham from wearing Packers gear on the sidelines. Which means that NFL players may need to show that local stadium authorities had a role in the rule that requires players to stand for the anthem.

Or maybe not. In Grimm’s article, one legal expert compares the situation to hosting a private birthday party in a public park. NFL games represent a private business endeavor that plays out in a public arena that anyone who pays the appropriate fee may attend. A plausible argument could be made that the close relationship between NFL teams and the publicly-owned stadiums transforms everything about the situation into a public event.

Ultimately, an anthem-based fight would play out in every publicly-funded stadium, with careful inspection of the leases needed to determine whether there may be any plausible basis for arguing that private employers cannot infringe upon First Amendment rights in an inherently public setting. Beckham’s existing lawsuit, if the NFLPA were to join it, could provide the test case.

And Beckham seems to be interested in partnering up with the NFLPA.

“[If] they let me wear my Packer stuff on the field, it’s over and done with, that’s what I always said,” Beckman told Grimm. “Now, I think if I was approached by the [NFL Players Association] or one of the players who kneel, I would go ahead with the case.”

At a time when the NFLPA is contemplating which case(s) to go ahead with as it relates to the league’s decision to unilaterally eliminate a right to protest that the league previously had given to the players and confirmed on multiple occasions, maybe the first battle will come within the confines of Beckham’s existing lawsuit.

33 responses to “Packers fan’s lawsuit against Bears could impact anthem debate

  1. First of all i did not say “what’s that you say” What I said was “oh great another story about the anthem protest”. I guess all of the other season ticket holders that would ever get a chance to get on the field chances now is over, and they all have this fan to blame.

  2. I saw that the TB Lightning don’t allow unfriendly logos to be wore in certain areas of their arena that are exclusive to season ticket holders. This is to prevent tickets being sold on secondary markets to opposing fans however the same issue is in play. If I legally buy a ticket from a season ticket holder(or am a season ticket holder who supports another team) I get to wear what I want. It’s to prevent bad optics on tv and to keep the home fans happy but it is a clear violation of law(if we are still doing that here anymore).

  3. Even if it’s a “public arena” wouldn’t the fact that the players are employees and he is paying to be there and not able to do what he was paid to do make a big difference between the two?

    I think the collusion cases make more sense.

  4. Had to read this a few times to grasp it but why does he have to attend season ticket events in his packer gear? You want to hold bears tickets so you can attend 1 game a year and scalp the rest? That’s fine but show some class and don’t troll the fans by wearing enemy gear at those events.

  5. So, how many home team fields are paid for with tax dollars? How many are private? Get your popcorn ready.

  6. Private employers in America don’t have to follow the Constitution? That’s terrible.

  7. GB fans are just like the players on that team, think they are entitled to everything.

  8. Most Packer fans I know would not engage is such petty and childish behavior. Bears vs. Packers is the oldest and BEST rivalry in all of sports and definitely the NFL. This guy sounds like a wagonjumper Packer fan that needs more Mommy/Daddy time.

  9. Apples and bowling balls comparison. In public or not, they’re employees of a private company. Makes no difference if work is performed in public. Weak argument

  10. Bad news when the NFL goes to court for the fans. For instance Mayer v Belichick ruled the NFL as entertainment and the NFL can fix the refs but not players or coaches. This is perhaps the reason everyone saw so many bogus calls vs patriot opponents.

  11. Will have nothing to do with this debate. While players are in uniform, they are employed by the team. While you are employed and getting payed by an organization, you CANNOT violate company policy. even if the violation is on Public Funded property. This has already been upheld in court. A private citizen can wear an opposing jersey on public land.

    These are 2 separate concerns.

  12. collectordude says:
    June 3, 2018 at 8:57 pm
    Leave it to a packer fan to file a frivolous lawsuit.

    Frivolous? With what’s at stake?

  13. Two separate issues…The GB fan should have beenallowed on the field, but I personally would not sue over something so trivial…And the fact that this idiot plans to align himself with the kneeling players just makes him look even dumber…The NFL’s anthem policy is fine, allowing the players who choose not to stand for the anthem to do so without reflecting badly on the folks who pay their salaries.

  14. I thought there was some issue to interstate trade violations when the broncos limited ticket sales to isnside a few states in a publicly owned stadium.

    The guy would have a better case if the just didn’t let him in the stadiuum

  15. Take this boring league, their boring lawyers, the boring fans and stick it. It’s not football it’s judge judy

  16. A plausible argument could be made that the close relationship between NFL teams and the publicly-owned stadiums transforms everything about the situation into a public event.

    You’re confusing plausible with absurd. Private citizen vs employee.

    Does the 2nd Amendment to the Constitution allow teachers to carry guns into schools if local ordinance says no? Can teachers exercise their 1st Amendment rights to FOS and say whatever they want in front of children? Students have lockers that do not fall under 4th Amendment protection.

    For a lawyer this seems like a peculiar posture.

  17. “Packers fan’s lawsuit against Bears could impact anthem debate”

    Unless it doesn’t.

  18. I am amazed that fools like Brian above can’t comprehend that when you are on the clock of your employer, you don’t have free rights are off the clock; the Constitution limits what GOVERNMENT can do to restrict rights, but says nothing about employers.

    For example, a UPS driver handing out pro abortion literature is an exercise in free speech that is not permitted while the employee is on the clock.

    I’m not sure why you all have a hard time grasping the concept of “on the clock” and the restrictions it places on employees.

  19. Typical inaccurate interpretation of the first amendment.

    Freedom of speech simply means you cannot be arrested by the government for speaking out against it. It does not (and this is where everyone gets it wrong) mean you can do whatever you want without accountability.

    For example, Jeffery Lurie owner of the Eagles, in a very public story, had a stadium employee fired for his derogatory comments on social media after they let go of Brian Dawkins.

    Lurie was in the right and did not violate any freedom of speech rights in firing the stadium employee.

    If you are hurting your own employer through your words or actions, you are in fact held to accountability. Freedom of speech doesn’t mean anything goes however. Per the logic of this post, the stadium employee should have filed and won a lawsuit against Lurie. He hurt his organization through his actions. To bring it back to the anthem issue, yes they are hurting their employers as seen in the negative fan reaction. Employers are allowed to take action and have it not be deemed violating freedom of speech.

    These players are legally allowed to speak in public. No one is arresting them for doing so. But that doesn’t mean, just bc you have something to say, that your employer of all people MUST provide a soapbox. That’s not how freedom of speech works.

    Simply put, freedom of speech doesn’t mean immunity from accountability. It means you will not be jailed for words. This is where everyone gets it wrong.

  20. The Truth says:
    June 4, 2018 at 5:13 am
    Take this boring league, their boring lawyers, the boring fans and stick it. It’s not football it’s judge judy
    Agree, lawyers will continue to destroy the NFL under the self promoting social/safety issues of the players, as long as it is profitable…the players are still making money, but their sitting on a sink hole and the subterranean creatures (aka lawyers) are eating the ground underneath them!

  21. Really the guy should not had worn a jersey over in the first place. And really it was on the Bears field not Green Bay. Which is one thing. Good luck with his lawsuit. But doubt he will win. NFL is a money hungry billion dollar corporation.

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