Members of Congress try to pin down Bears chairman over NFL’s anthem protest

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The Chicago Bears link arms during the National Anthem before they face off against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Soldier Field, Sunday, Sept. 24, 2017. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Four Chicago-area Democratic House members are asking Bears chairman George McCaskey if the team voted for the NFL’s new national anthem policy and have requested a meeting with the McCaskey family to discuss free speech issues.

Rep. Robin Kelly and three other Illinois democrats — Rep. Bobby Rush, Rep. Danny Davis and Rep. Jan Schakowsky — dated the letter May 30. They defended the players’ right to protest during the anthem.

When the NFL passed the policy — which states players must stand for the anthem if they are on the field, or face a fine, or remain in the locker room — last month, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said the vote of league owners was unanimous. ESPN later reported the vote was more informal.

“Did you vote to affirm this policy, did you abstain or were you not present at the meeting?” the letter asked the McCaskeys.

Through a team spokesman, George McCaskey declined comment, just as he did upon the rule’s passing. In March, he said that he encouraged his players that, “whatever they decided to do, to do it together.” No Bears player has kneeled during the anthem, though they did occasionally lock arms in unity last year.

The four signers include the three House members from Illinois who are African American: Kelly, Rush and Davis.

“It’s disappointing that your franchise voted to silence the players you employ during this important national dialogue,” the letter states.

A Kelly spokesperson said the NFL contacted her office for information.

“Players who kneel are continuing a long tradition of protesting injustice and should not be silenced by their league or the President,” Rush said in a statement. “Freedom of speech and peaceful protest are amongst our most cherished rights, and should not be disparaged.”

Then-49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick did not rise for the anthem during the 2016 preseason to protest police brutality against people of color, and other issues, and some players followed suit. Monday night, President Donald Trump said that the Super Bowl champion Eagles were no longer invited to the White House on Tuesday, stating that only a few players decided to come. He claimed that saying in the locker room during the anthem was “as disrespectful to our country as kneeling.”

The Eagles never kneeled during the national anthem.

Bears outside linebacker Sam Acho, vice president of the NFL Players Association’s executive committee, said Tuesday he hoped the politicians would combine the letter with actions.

“Writing letters is great,” he said. “I’d also, say ‘O.K., what are you doing to make an impact?’ If you’re doing something that’s making an impact, let me hop on board with that too. So it’s a ‘both and’ thing, not an ‘either or.’”

Bears coach Matt Nagy said the Bears haven’t discussed the anthem issue in detail — “We’ll have a process, and it will include everybody,” he said — but said McCaskey has been communicative with his players.

“You’re talking about a guy (in McCaskey) that genuinely cares about each and every one of his players and their opinions,” he said. “And then it’s about listening. We all need to listen.”

Acho said he knows from conversations with the chairman that McCaskey wasn’t trying to appease the President.

The President spoke for about four minutes at the “Celebration of America” event that took the place of the Eagles’ gathering.

“We love our country,” he said. “We respect our flag. We always proudly stand for the National Anthem.”

Acho said the President rescinding the Eagles’ offer was consistent with his previous actions.

“I’m not surprised because when you look at people’s history, you start seeing themes,” he said. “I heard a saying … ‘People are going to tell you who they are, it’s up to you to believe them or not.’ So there’s gotta come a point where you start believing who someone is and who they’re not.

“No matter what line of duty they’re in or no matter what their title is, you look at someone’s work, you look at their history. An apple tree doesn’t produce oranges. Apple trees make apples. So if you start looking at somebody’s fruit, you start realizing, ‘OK, I’m no longer surprised.’ It’d be a fool of me to be surprised.”

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