Here's a Bizarre Story About Fan Apparel, First Amendment Rights and an NFL Rivalry
The Chicago Bears eliminating the Green Bay Packers from NFL playoff contention this past Sunday is only the latest installment in the long-standing rivalry. As we all know, sports rivalries are intense and heated, so it's no surprise that this case involving the Packers-Bears rivalry and, weirdly, fan apparel made its way all the way up to a federal court.
According to The Journal Times, the court made the decision that a Packers fan, a Bears season ticket-holder, for some reason, would not be allowed to wear his Packers apparel to the Bears pregame warmup against the Packers last Sunday. Judge Joan Gottschall of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois Eastern Division made the final call.
“Being on the opposing team’s sideline implies an association with the opposing team, while standing in the end zone mere feet away from Bears players warming up suggests to the average football fan something much more out of place,” the Gottschall said.
Green Bay Packers fan Russell Beckman won't be able to wear his Packers gear on the Soldier Field sidelines during pregame warmups Sunday, after a federal court judge denied his injunction. https://t.co/pLOW5kAMfl pic.twitter.com/SEjSWdux8l
— Chicago Tribune (@chicagotribune) December 14, 2018
Russell Beckham, the Packers fan at the center of this decision, filed a lawsuit in 2017 against the Bears that said his First Amendment rights were denied after he was not allowed to wear his Packers gear for a 2016 Bears warmup. Flash forward to 2018, and Beckham decided to file a request for a temporary restraining order so that he could wear his Packers apparel to last Sunday's game.
Beckham, a lifelong Packers fan, has had season tickets to Bears games since 2003, which grants admission to the team's pregame warmups. During the 2014 and 2015 seasons, Beckham said he had no problem watching the warmups in his team's gear, but in 2016, that all changed. After 2016, there are rules in place that said anyone wearing the opposing team's gear would not be allowed into the stadium during warmups. On Dec. 18, 2016, Beckham was denied entry because of what he was wearing.
“The Bears appear to believe that seeing a person wearing Packers gear in the Bears’ end zones will hamper their fans’ enjoyment of the game,” Gottschall said in her decision.
In addition, the Bears stated that prohibiting opposing team apparel at the warmup "advances the Bears' business interest."
It seems a little over the top for a team to be able to dictate what fans can and cannot wear, but we all know if this were our team, we would probably agree with the decision. It's surprising that a mandate like this can exist in the first place, but sports stadiums are private venues, so it's not that outlandish.