The NFL’s national anthem rule controversy continues to evolve around the league, now reaching the Bears as four Illinois lawmakers are calling the team’s actions “disappointing”, according to a report from Crain’s Chicago.
A letter delivered today and written by Illinois House Representative Robin Kelly, Chicago Democrats Bobby Rush and Danny Davis, and Evanston Democrat Jan Schakowsky, details “that the Bears voted to silence the players you employ” during a crucial national ongoing dialogue. It goes on to further question “Did your ownership take into account the politics that inspired, and social impact that would result from this new anthem policy?”
The letter comes after the NFL voted to require players to stand for the US national anthem if they are on the field two weeks ago. The policy dictated that players may choose not to stand, but must stay in the locker room in that event. Any player who is on the field is required to stand or will be fined. This was passed with 31 votes from NFL owners, only one in the 49ers choosing to abstain. Those 31 votes included chairman George McCaskey and the Bears, of course.
This National Anthem policy followed stewed fires from President Donald Trump and political conservatives who were maintaining that NFL players, by far most of them of African-American descent, were disrespecting the United States by kneeling for the anthem. The players have continually maintained they are not disrespecting the country, and are actually protesting police brutality, as the message has been lost. They have followed the lead of the famous first player to take a knee: Colin Kaepernick back in the fall of 2016.
With the most pertinent timing, this letter from Illinois lawmakers also follows news that Trump disinvited the defending Super Bowl champion Eagles from visiting the White House on Tuesday afternoon. The White House had done it after learning that only 10 Eagles representatives were set to visit the President. They also attempted to paint it as Philadelphia disrespecting the national anthem by kneeling as the reason for the disinvite. However, no Eagles players kneeled for the anthem in 2017, according to former Eagles receiver Torrey Smith.
As the letter goes on, it questions the NFL’s Personal Conduct Policy not fining teams of players who engage in domestic violence, illegal drug usage, and other crimes. The lawmakers directly ask Bears’ ownership whether they believe teams should also be assigned a fine for these actions as they have enacted “for the expression of free speech during the National Anthem.” They are demanding to know how the Bears plan to implement this anthem policy at the team level in the face of these other rising issues.
The letter begins to close by mentioning that former owner George Halas worked against the NFL’s ban on black players in the 1930’s and that the lawmakers now hope the Bears take another progressive stand over eight decades later. It demands accountability from the Bears in light of tremendous taxpayer funding for stadiums and other important infrastucture, saying that the league needs to be held to a higher standard in light of public interests. And finally, the lawmakers say that the only way everyone can move forward “is by engaging in a constructive, respectful, representative discourse . . . This is not the time to silence the aggrieved.”
Everyone that signed the letter except Schakowsky is African-American. Other Chicago members of Congress were invited to sign on, and may soon respond in their own fashion. The Bears have not yet sent out any official response.
Robert Zeglinski is the Bears beat writer for The Rock River Times, an editor for Windy City Gridiron and Inside The Pylon, and is a contributor to Pro Football Weekly and The Athletic Chicago. You can follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.
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