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An Open Letter to the Chicago Bears

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Now it is time for you to say more.

8 June 2020

To Virginia McCaskey, George McCaskey, Ted Phillips and the Chicago Bears organization,

As lifelong Bears fans and members of the Bears community, we read the statement your franchise issued June 1 regarding the police murder of George Floyd, and we appreciate the organization’s identification of white supremacy and bad policing in Floyd’s immoral death.

Now it is time for you to say more.

George McCaskey wrote in his statement that following George Floyd’s murder, “we are witnessing the anger and frustration play out in protests across the nation, including Chicago.” He talked about addressing the murder in team meetings, and continuing the organization’s support of four Chicago community groups.

These are wonderful commitments. And listening to Akiem Hicks speak about those team meetings, which he said created “healing” in the locker room and “changed my perspective on life,” it sounds like they hit their mark for many of the players.

But a sports franchise’s statement needs to hit its mark with the public with the same tangible strength.

The images and stories of police violence in Chicago this past week — against protesters, press and passerby — are horrific, yet not surprising. As Mayor Lightfoot noted, Chicago has a deep history of police violence, specifically against Black people. In the past week, we’ve seen an officer running over a 16-year-old girl in Roseland, officers shoving and clubbing protesters, and officers pepper spraying reporters.

Then there were the officers who dragged a woman from her car Sunday afternoon in a mall parking lot, where she was shopping with friends, and beat her, kneeling on her neck.

Since protests in Chicago over Floyd’s killing began Friday, May 29, 344 complaints have been made against the Chicago Police Department, according to the head of the city’s Civilian Office of Police Accountability, for excessive force, denial of counsel, improper search and seizure and verbal abuse.

Incredibly, one of those complaints is from Ghian Foreman, president of the Chicago Police Board, the independent civilian-led board that decides disciplinary cases involving police. Foreman’s complaint alleges that officers struck his legs with batons at least five times while he marched on 47th Street to protest police brutality. Police misconduct lawsuits cost Chicago taxpayers tens of millions of dollars annually, including an astounding $113 million in 2018 alone.

And this of course is just Chicago. The images around the country are equally heinous, with far too many to list, including the two college students in Atlanta, from Chicago, who were on a date when police smashed their car windows, dragged them out of the car, tased them and beat with clubs.

In other words, the “anger and frustration” in our city that George McCaskey referenced cannot be addressed through a short public statement, two-hour conversations and support of community groups. It is the result of systemic racism, white supremacy, abuse of power and a lack of accountability for police violence.

Yet while these are massive problems, they are created by tangible actions — ones that the Chicago Bears franchise, a pillar of our city, with influence and means, can address by using, as Mr. McCaskey said, “our voice, our actions and our resources.”

The violence we are seeing in American cities during demonstrations for justice in the murder of George Floyd, and the murder of Breonna Taylor, stem in part from three areas:

  • The legacy of the justice system not holding police officers accountable when they kill citizens, specifically Black people.
  • The delayed action by law enforcement to arrest the officer who murdered George Floyd, and the three officers who served as his accomplices. The three officers who shot and killed Breonna Taylor in March remain free.
  • The violent police action against both citizens and press exercising their First Amendment rights.

A sports franchise’s public statement must offer solutions just as tangible as the root causes of the problems the franchise is addressing. It must convey the same urgency inherent in this threat. It must show players — 70% of whom are Black — that its speaker stands with them and understands their pain.

A group of NFL players released a video Thursday saying as much, asking the NFL to make a new statement condemning systematic oppression of Black people, admitting wrongdoing in silencing player protests and stating that Black lives matter.

Commissioner Roger Goodell released a video response Friday, stating those items and adding a key point: “Without Black players, there would be no National Football League.”

As such, we ask that George McCaskey delivers on camera this week a new public statement on behalf of the Chicago Bears, one that states:

  • A demand for an immediate halt to police violence against organizers, activists, demonstrators and protesters in the city of Chicago. This means encouraging public officials to not enlist the National Guard, directing police officers to protect organizers and peaceful protesters and to protect First Amendment rights of free assembly, free speech and a free press.
  • A denunciation of militarization of local police forces, and of the calls to send U.S. troops into American cities.
  • A commitment to, in the future, publicly call for the immediate arrest of officers who kill citizens, and for a legal process in their cases bereft of barriers to accountability.

There are differences of opinion, even among the undersigned, on what exactly should be done to stop police violence, and what role an NFL team can and should do to address this threat. In the coming days, we expect a variety of more nuanced discussions to take place in Chicago and across the country about police violence. Everything from a sports team’s law enforcement appreciation events to bi-partisan legislation around qualified immunity reform to defunding of police will likely become common discussion in households across America.

But we do not view the above three bullet points as particularly radical nor as anything requiring deeper nuance or context. Police should be held accountable when they kill citizens, and Americans should be allowed to exercise their First Amendment rights. Period.

While the Bears making the above statements will not alone solve systemic racism, white supremacy or police violence, they would, coming from a sports franchise, represent true leadership around these critical issues.

In short, they would begin to fulfill George McCaskey’s words: “We must do more than wring our hands and hope it doesn’t happen again.”

Sports have always helped heal a wounded society, but some wounds are too great to even enjoy sports. When we demand justice in these cases of police brutality, we do so not just as Americans and Chicagoans, but as Bears fans. Bears fandom is part of our identity. The franchise supports Bears fans when we have cancer, when we are youth athletes, when we are homeless and need coats, when we return home from active duty. This is merely another aspect of that support.

The impact the Bears organization can have in this time of American crisis, along with other sports teams in Chicago, is powerful enough to be the first steps toward justice

Please speak clearly today.

Sincerely, urgently, and in solidarity,

Chicago Audible, DaBearsBlog, Windy City Gridiron

  1. Jeff Berckes, Windy City Gridiron
  2. Patti Curl, Windy City Gridiron
  3. Andrew Dannehy, DaBearsBlog
  4. Will DeWitt, Chicago Audible
  5. Jordan Grimes, Chicago Audible
  6. Sam Householder, Windy City Gridiron
  7. Jeff Hughes, DaBearsBlog
  8. Jacob Infante, Windy City Gridiron
  9. Will Ingalls, Chicago Audible
  10. Stephen Letizia, Chicago Audible
  11. Ken Mitchell, Windy City Gridiron
  12. Nicholas Moreano, Chicago Audible
  13. Nick Osen, ESPN / Chicago Audible
  14. Jack Salo, Windy City Gridiron
  15. Robert Schmitz, Windy City Gridiron
  16. Steven Schweickert, Windy City Gridiron
  17. Jack Silverstein, Windy City Gridiron
  18. Lester Wiltfong Jr., Windy City Gridiron
  19. Johnathan Wood, DaBearsBlog
  20. Robert Zeglinski, Windy City Gridiron
  21. Brett Ballantini, South Side Hit Pen / South Side Sox
  22. Matthiew Balsley, Bears season ticket holder since 2001
  23. Jessica Bastian, Bears fan since 2013
  24. George Bayliss, Bears Barroom
  25. Greg Braggs Jr., Bears Barroom
  26. Brandon Cain, 2nd City Hockey
  27. Stephanie Esposito, Chicago Rucks
  28. Tim Falletti, U.S. Army veteran (1999-2008) / Bears fan since 1981
  29. Andy Frye, Forbes Contributor
  30. Shane Marsaw, Bears Barroom
  31. Ricky O’Donnell, SB Nation
  32. Jonathan Otten, U.S. Navy veteran (2007-2014) / Bears fan since 1993
  33. Phil Ottochian, Bears Barroom
  34. Jason Patt, BlogABull
  35. Matt Peck, Bulls Outsiders
  36. John Sabine, Bulls Outsiders
  37. Rob Schaefer, Bulls reporter / Chicago resident
  38. Sarah Spain, ESPN