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Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Beckman v. Chicago Bears

Russell Beckman is a Green Bay Packers fan who holds season tickets with the Chicago Bears only so he can attend the Bears-Packers game. Season-ticket holders earn points allowing them to purchase "experiences," including going onto the field during pre-game warmups. But the Bears prohibit these fans from going onto the field in the opposing team's gear; they would not let Beckman participate during the Bears-Packers game last season, and, he alleges, will not let him do it at the game next season. Beckman has sued the Bears, alleging that the no-opposing-team-gear rule violates the First Amendment and seeking an injunction against enforcement of the policy. Beckman is appearing pro se (he and I exchanged emails about the situation a few weeks ago).

The Bears play at Soldier Field, which is owned by the Chicago Parks District and rented to the team for its use. That, I believe, raises the possibility the Bears act under color. If the case involved the Bears stopping fans from wearing opposing-team gear in the stands, this would be an easy case, with the Bears subject to Burton's symbiotic relationship test, just as the New York Yankees were at the old Stadium. But I have been reluctant to say that teams playing in publicly owned arenas act under color for all purposes, as opposed to for the limited purposes of operating expressive fora (the stands, press access, etc.). A team should retain leeway in its organization and operations, including its interactions with customers. Playing at a publicly owned arena would not stop the Bears from being viewpoint-discriminatory in, for example, deciding what people could wear or who could attend a Lake Michigan cruise for ticket holders. The question is where the playing field (ordinarily not part of the expressive forum) falls on the spectrum. I am not sure I know the answer to that question.

Interestingly, the Yankee Stadium lawsuit was brought by the NYCLU in conjunction with NYU's Civil Rights Clinic. It is surprising (telling?) that neither the Illinois ACLU nor a Chicago-based clinic would take this on. Did Beckman never ask around? Does it say something about how that state-action question will be resolved when we move from the stands to the field?

Or are Green Bay Packers fans less popular in Chicagoland than Nazis?

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 21, 2017 at 11:58 AM in First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Sports | Permalink

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