The Bears may not face the Packers until Sunday, but the team had an early match in court Wednesday with a man from Wisconsin who donned the Green Bay logo.
That man, Russell Beckman, plans to be on the field as players warm-up for the latest showdown this weekend between epic NFL rivals.
The question is, what will he wear?
Beckman, a “die-hard” Packers fan, has been locked in a legal battle with the Bears for more than a year over his right to wear Packers gear during pre-game warm-ups at Soldier Field.
While his federal court case drags on without a resolution, his lawyers last month asked U.S. District Judge Joan Gottschall for an injunction that would let him wear his Packers gear on the edge of the field before Sunday’s game.
Now, Gottschall is getting ready to decide after listening to more than an hour of arguments Wednesday at the Dirksen Federal Courthouse. She asked lawyers, among other things, whether there’s ever been a case like this one. Beckman raises a First Amendment claim, but the message he wants to send is entirely non-political.
To the judge, that is.
“The content of this message is, ‘I like the Packers,’ I assume,” Gottschall said.
For years, Beckman has been a Bears personal seat license owner and season-ticket holder. Previously, he participated in a program that offers season-ticket holders a chance to stand on the edge of the playing field and watch players warm-up before a game. In the past, he says he has worn his Packers apparel.
After using points to purchase a chance to do so again in 2016, Beckman said the Bears announced it would not allow opposing team apparel on the field. He decided to show up in his Packers gear anyway, only to be turned away.
Beckman claims the team is effectively a government actor because it is “inextricably intertwined” with the Chicago Park District — the owner of Soldier Field — in its implementation of the program he wants to participate in. The Bears deny it.
Bears lawyer Paul Greenwalt also told the judge that, from a marketing perspective, the team thinks it would be damaged if it allowed fans to wear opposing team jerseys on the field.
Greenwalt made that argument as Beckman sat nearby, wearing a suit decorated with a Packers pin with a yellow, green and white checked tie. After court, Beckman told reporters that, “George McCaskey does not need to protect Bear fans from the likes of me.”
He also said the Bears have “lost their moral compass.”
“I think they’ve lost their way,” Beckman said. “And sometimes, when a powerful person or entity loses his or her way, they need to be smacked down. And in this case, I’m the guy who’s trying to smack them down.”
Finally, Beckman said it’s likely he’ll participate in the pre-game warm-up program Sunday, even if the judge’s ruling doesn’t go his way.
“I’ll wear something else,” Beckman said. “And, um, maybe you guys should be there to see what I wear.”