Sports Arena

Security Theatre at the NFL

Banning bags seems the epitome of “security theatre” as it targets everyone regardless of risk. 

By 9.27.13

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Until last weekend, I was unaware of the NFL’s new purse policy, which as of this season bans a bag larger than a hand except for slightly larger clear plastic bags or Ziploc-like pouches.

I found out the hard way trying to enter M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore with my regular purse, which was extra puffy that day to accommodate my stuff and my husband Dave’s jacket, keys and phone.

It was a no-go. Either I had to check it outside the perimeter of the stadium or bring it back to our car -- parked a 45-minute walk away. This is Baltimore. You do not leave anything in your car for any reason. When I moved to the city in 2006 the top to my convertible was slashed twice in four months, so I learned quickly to keep nothing inside. The alternative, checking my bag with stadium personnel, did not seem much safer. Dave was worried about identity theft by stadium employees. I was more worried about someone stealing my purse from the open area where they were kept. But I dropped it there anyway, after removing everything important I could fit into my back pockets, as we were going to miss the first quarter of the game otherwise.

According to NFL policy, I could have carried all the items in my bag separately, and was only prevented from stashing them together, as if humans gained limbs like octopuses near professional football stadiums.  “This is not a restriction on items that fans have been able to bring into the stadium,” according to the NFL. “It is only a restriction on the type of container used to carry items.”

When cold weather hits, the NFL helpfully notes, “Fans will be able to bring blankets by tossing them over a shoulder or arm as they do in Green Bay.” So, come next month, it will look like a bunch of homeless people attend NFL games, with binoculars strung around their necks, blankets wrapped around them toting clear plastic zippered bags with a random assortment of junk. Someone should invent new cargo pants and jackets with team logos to remedy the situation, or a strap with multiple carabiners to hold essentials, mimicking the architectural trend of rebranding the guts of a building as aesthetic centerpieces.

Allegedly this new policy is meant to increase both the safety and the speed with which fans can enter the stadium.

I can see why it might help to speed people through the line. But teams already set up express lanes to frisk people who are not carrying bags. Forcing people with bags into a slow lane effectively sends the message that they are not wanted without having to ban them. The NFL could also do a better job advertising how tiny each stadium seat is to remind people that they will have zero legroom if they bring anything other than their body. If it were any warmer Sunday, for example, I would have been glued to the overweight guy to my right whose left thigh oozed under the armrest into my seat.

As far as security is concerned, banning bags seems the epitome of “security theatre” as it targets everyone regardless of risk. As Bruce Schneier, one of America’s top security experts, told me, “It looks good, accomplishes nothing, and makes people feel better.” Schneier, a cryptographer and security technologist, has relentlessly shown how useless, expensive and ineffectual federal airport regulations are at keeping America safe.

He said he thought the real reason for the regulation was to increase concession sales, as no one would be able to bring anything into the stadium legally. It makes sense.

Terrorists will always find a way around regulations and are bound by no rules as the Tsarnaev brothers exemplified in their attack on the Boston Marathon in April that killed three and injured over 250 people. And as Aaron Alexis proved again last week at the Navy Yard in Washington, no place is safe from crazy people -- even a government military installation.

So, like the TSA forcing people to remove their shoes in airport security lines -- NFL fans will suffer a big hassle with no payoff -- except maybe fewer people tripping over their seats on the way back from buying overpriced beer and nachos. I’ll be in the cheap seats on our couch for the rest of the season.

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About the Author
Marta H. Mossburg writes frequently about national affairs and about politics in Maryland, where she lives.  Write her at marta@martamossburg.com. Follow her on Twitter at @mmossburg.