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Illinois congresswoman calls for transparency from Bears on NFL anthem policy

A draft of the letter obtained by SB Nation requests an explanation from the franchise on how it voted, and how it views free speech.

Minnesota Vikings v Chicago Bears Photo by Kena Krutsinger/Getty Images

In a letter to Chicago Bears ownership, Rep. Robin Kelly (D-IL) calls for Virginia McCaskey, principle owner of the franchise, to give more clarity on how the team plans to enforce the NFL’s new anthem policy. She is the first member of Congress to ask for transparency from a team regarding the new rules.

According to a draft of the letter obtained by SB Nation, Kelly wants to know how Bears ownership voted on the policy, how they intend to enforce it, and what the team’s overall policy is on free speech, noting that teams around the league play in stadiums that are largely paid for with public funding.

“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 on players, employees, and fans,” Kelly states in the letter.

She mentions that the Bears’ roster is 68 percent black, that the NFL is 70 percent black, and that the team receives a large amount of support from communities of color.

Kelly, who comes from a military and police family, has also called for a meeting with McCaskey to address concerns from fans and players. In a statement to SB Nation, she says:

”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. I hope that a meeting with Mrs. Halas McCaskey 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.”

Kelly also wants to know whether the team will issue similar penalties and fines for players who commit actual crimes, like possession of a firearm or driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

The newly adopted policy from the NFL would fine any player or personnel who fails to “show respect” for the the national anthem, which includes kneeling or sitting as many players have done over the past season.

Here is Rep. Kelly’s full letter to McCaskey, which she is circulating for other co-signers:

Mrs. Halas McCaskey,

I write today with grave concerns over the recent announcement by the National Football League(NFL) that owners have voted to enact a new national anthem policy for the 2018 season. The new policy would mandate that all players, team and league personnel, who are on the field for the national anthem, stand or be subjected to penalty.

As a Member of Congress, I proudly swore an oath that I would defend our Constitution, and protect my fellow countrymen’s First Amendment right to free speech. This right is unalienable, and the right to speak freely on the issues of racial injustice and police brutality is something Chicago Bears players, employees and fans value.

I have the honor of hosting the Chicago Bears’ training camp in the village of Bourbonnais, in my Congressional District, each summer. The city we both represent – Chicago – has had its issues with matters of community police relations and excessive force. In fact, just last year the Department of Justice issued a report on Chicago highlighting these concerns and the Chicago Police Department is currently under a consent decree with the Illinois Attorney General due to prior misconduct. This is the very issue that NFL players are protesting.

I am extremely disappointed and quite concerned that your franchise and “America’s League” have seemingly fallen victim to dangerous political pressure from President Trump and his repeated assaults on free speech. I am equally concerned that the Chicago Bears, who have a current roster that is 68 percent African American in a league which is 70 percent black, and benefits from the vocal support of so many communities of color, seems like a lack of foresight.

Consequently, I have several questions for Chicago Bears ownership on this policy, as well as your intentions to enforce it, and your plans to implement it at the team level. In particular, I would like answers to the following questions:

1). Did you have knowledge of a vote on the new anthem policy prior to the March 22 owners meeting in Orlando?

2.) Neither you nor the Chicago Bears have issued a statement regarding your vote in this process. Did you vote to affirm this policy, did you abstain or were you not present at the meeting?

3). How do the Chicago Bears plan to implement this policy change at the team level? Will players have advance notice of team-level policy changes before reporting to Training Camp? Do the Chicago Bears plan to incorporate player feedback into crafting the team level policy?

4). To date, 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. I look forward to your thoughts about whether teams should be assessed a fine for these personal actions in the same way that you have for the expression of free speech during the National Anthem.

5). 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 on players, employees, and fans. In 2016 your team was accused of prohibiting certain fan apparel expression in certain parts of your publicly financed stadium. I would like to know the Chicago Bears official policy on free speech?

I respectfully await your response to this inquiry, and welcome the opportunity to engage you in person on the important issues of free speech, responsible community policing, and employment rights.