Athletes are now vulnerable outside the stadium.
As we have become desensitized to the continual assaults by terrorists on the free world, just “part and parcel of living in a big city” as London’s Mayor marked it down to, you probably glossed over some news from Germany last week that signals a shift in tactics by the terrorists. This new tactic involves the sports world, and it suggests terrorists are focusing away from attacking the gathering place for athletic competitions and inflicting terror instead directly upon professional athletes themselves.
Last Tuesday, three explosive devices went off near the Borussia Dortmund soccer team’s bus in Germany as the bus left the team hotel. The initial details at first blush are all too familiar. A note was found at the scene that began “the name of Allah, the merciful,” and made reference to the Berlin Christmas market attack, a U.S. Air Force base in Germany, and demands that Germany pull out of NATO. To no one’s surprise except perhaps Chancellor Angela Merkel’s, an Iraqi refugee was taken into custody after the attack. Owing to some inconsistencies with typical ISIS attacks, police suspect that this bombing could have been the work of someone trying to frame Islamic terrorists.
Ultimately whether the bombing was carried out by Islamists or not is irrelevant to the chilling tactical shift this attack represents. In a sick twisted way the shift makes absolute sense. Since September 11, your average professional sports stadium and arena has become a reinforced fortress. Metal detectors, bomb sniffing dogs, license plate recognition software, and bollards to prevent car bombs are all now standard operational procedure. The 2015 attacks in Paris that killed at least 130 people would have been infinitely worse if not for stadium security at Stade de France, which stopped three backpack bombs from entering a packed house that day. In other words, stadiums and arenas are no longer soft targets, and the bad guys have shifted tactics and set their sights on low hanging fruit.
Professional athletes are now vulnerable away from their workplace. Your average professional sports team travels tens of thousands of miles a year on planes, trains, and buses. Each of these journeys creates security challenges and windows of opportunity for the terrorist. Add into this countless nights spent on the road in public hotels that also leave athletes exposed.
Even if teams can figure a way to secure team travel, that protection is just the tip of the iceberg for athletes. All sports have an offseason when players go home and are outside the protection of the team. It is not a matter of if terrorists will attempt to kill or kidnap high profile athletes away from the playing field but when, and then when it begins, when and if it will ever stop.
If you believe this is farfetched, the era of kidnapping high profile athletes is already upon us. In Latin America several baseball players and their family members have been kidnapped, leaving players in fear of going home in the offseason. These are almost always monetary crimes, but as political and Islamic terrorism enters this realm it becomes more chilling. Imagine the scenarios of players kidnapped and tortured live on Facebook, YouTube, or some other social media site. Or team buses blown up or players murdered in cold blood on the street. All of the above would give terrorists the publicity they seek, and all with low probability of getting foiled before the damage is done.
So what can be done to prevent this diabolical nightmare from coming true? Not much, other than putting each professional athlete in a 24/7 security bubble that would cost an infinite amount of resources and take away the civil liberties of the athlete and the citizens in their vicinity. The risk now facing professional athletes is just a symptom of a much larger disease that many of our leaders have no inclination to eradicate, as they would rather be politically correct and pretend terrorism is no more dangerous than, say, your typical workplace violence.
Professional athletes probably haven’t yet grasped the significance of last week, but whether or not they realize it, the world they live in has changed. Not only their lives, but their families’ lives have become exponentially riskier.