Four members of Congress from Illinois have sent a letter to the Bears criticizing the team and the NFL regarding the league’s new national anthem policy.
“It is disappointing that your franchise voted to silence the players you employ, during this important national dialogue,” states the letter, signed by U.S. Reps. Robin Kelly of Matteson and Jan Schakowsky, Bobby Rush and Danny Davis of Chicago, all Democrats.
The NFL’s new policy, announced May 23, requires players to stand for the national anthem if they are on the field. Players will have the option to stay in the locker room, but a club will be fined if players or league personnel are on the field and do not stand “and show respect for the flag and the anthem.”
Kelly said in an interview Tuesday that the new policy ignores that many NFL players who knelt, sat or raised a fist as the anthem played before games were exercising their First Amendment right to free speech and making a statement about police brutality and the treatment of people of color.
“This covers up why this started, why Colin Kaepernick did this, to draw attention to some of the ills in our society and the need for them to be corrected,” Kelly said.
Kelly said it is wrong for the league and team owners to imply that players who do not stand during the anthem are not patriotic.
“The idea of these players not being patriotic or the comments by the president of the United States and how he’s invited and uninvited teams to the White House is out of line,” Kelly said.
And she said President Donald Trump “has become a cultural flashpoint” who has opened many of the country’s wounds, including fueling the discord over the NFL’s national anthem rules with his comments and Twitter posts.
The letter, dated May 30, was addressed to Bears owner Virginia McCaskey and Chairman George McCaskey.
“You benefit from the support of so many fans of color who share player concerns on the issue of police brutality,” the representatives wrote. “One can argue that there is a time for protest, or that we should keep politics out of football, but did your ownership take into account the politics that inspired, and social impact that would result from this new anthem policy?”
Kelly said the lawmakers have not yet heard from the Bears. The NFL contacted her office this week, she said, for a copy of the letter.
“The only way that the city of Chicago, our state, and this nation can move beyond this problem,” the letter states, “is by engaging in a constructive, respectful, representative discourse that helps communities heal by acknowledging injustices and listening to one another’s voice. This is not the time to silence the aggrieved.”
The Bears declined to comment.
ESPN has reported that league owners took a show-of-hands vote on the anthem policy and that there were zero “no” votes, with Oakland Raiders owner Mark Davis abstaining. Several other outlets reported that the 49ers, the team Kaepernick played for in 2016 when he started the national debate by kneeling for the anthem, also abstained from voting.
In their letter, the members of Congress ask the Bears how they plan to implement the league policy at the team level and whether they will listen to player feedback. The letter also makes a point to note that the NFL and individual teams “have been the beneficiaries of millions of federal taxpayer dollars.”
“Given the investment of taxpayer dollars, the NFL and its team (sic) should be held to the highest possible public standard, especially when it comes to protecting and defending First Amendment rights on (sic) players, employees, and fans. What is the Chicago Bears official policy on free speech?”
As representatives of the Chicago area who have many constituents who are Bears fans, Kelly said it was essential for her and the other co-signers to speak up on the anthem policy and express to the Bears that it “wasn’t well-thought out.”
“I hope that they do something internally with the players and show them they do respect the rights of the players and some understanding of where the players are coming from,” Kelly said. “These are really important issues of our times and we need to be moving forward and not taking steps back.”
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