U.S. Representative Robin Kelly (IL-02), along with U.S. Representatives Jan Schakowsky (IL-09), Congressmen Bobby Rush (IL-01) and Danny Davis (IL-07), sent a letter to Chicago Bears’ owner, Virginia Halas McCaskey and chairman, George McCaskey, expressing opposition to the NFL’s new anthem policy. The controversial new policy mandates that all players and personnel who are on the field for the national anthem stand or be subject to penalty. In the letter, the Members state the policy is a clear violation of the First Amendment Right to free speech.
They write: “It is disappointing that your franchise voted to silence the players you employ, during this important national dialogue.”
“I’m an NFL fan, but the League’s new anthem policy is both disappointing and concerning. We have an American institution, that is the beneficiary of millions in taxpayer dollars, actively restricting the expression of the First Amendment,” said Congresswoman Kelly. “I hope that a meeting with the McCaskey family will constructively address player and fan concerns about free speech and feeling safe to speak out in our communities about the issue of police brutality.”
In the letter, the Members highlight the Chicago Bears’ long history of working toward greater inclusion in the League, including working to lift the ban of African American players. They state: “The Halas-McCaskey family has a storied role in the history of this game, and in American culture. George Halas was one of the first league officials to work to convince NFL coaches to lift the ban on Black players in 1939, in his attempt to sign Kenny Washington of UCLA. That was a progressive business stand, and 80 years later, you too have the ability to take a similar progressive business stand.”
The NFL is one of many private enterprises that has substantially benefitted from federal, state and local investments, including stadium and infra- structure construction. Because of the massive investment of public dollars into this private business, the Members note that the League and its teams should be held to the highest possible standard when it comes to protecting the Constitutional rights of players, fans and employees. Specifically, they write: “Over the last six decades, the NFL and individual teams have been the beneficiaries of millions in federal taxpayer dollars, in addition to state and local taxpayer dollars for stadium construction and infrastructure. Given the investment of taxpayer dollars, the NFL and its team should be held to the highest possible public standard, especially when it comes to protecting and defending the First Amendment rights of players, employees, and fans.”
In particular, the Members express a real interest in the double standard created by this new policy. They note, “the NFL’s Personal Conduct policy assigns no fine to teams of players who engage in domestic violence, crimes involving firearms, driving under the influence (DUI), illegal drug usage and other crimes.”
The letter requests that the owner and chairman arrange a meeting with the Members through Congresswoman Kelly’s office. “I welcome the opportunity to engage the McCaskey family in person on the important issues of employee protected speech and safe community policing,” Congresswoman Kelly said.