The Big Mac Blog

Paris attacks remind us of the vulnerability of an NFL game

Before the Dallas Cowboys game at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Nov. 16 in Tampa, security was on increased awareness after the attacks in Paris.
Before the Dallas Cowboys game at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Nov. 16 in Tampa, security was on increased awareness after the attacks in Paris. Star-Telegram

We raise our arms waiting to be waned. We take off our shoes before we walk through the metal detectors at airports. Our belongings are “checked” by security personnel. We “buzz” in at our kids’ elementary school. A guy with a mirror checks the bottom of our cars. Maybe a big dog sniffs our computer bag.

All of these measures are there to make sure a person is not armed before boarding a plane, entering a big event, or picking up a kid early from school. All of these measures are there to make us safe.

Watching such measures in full effect on Sunday before the Dallas Cowboys game against the Tampa Bay Bucs at Raymond James Stadium does look the part of precaution. Are they enough, or is it window dressing?

It is both, but any more we are just hoping.

The recent terrorist attacks in Paris reminds us that there is no bigger party of sitting ducks than a sporting event. The best we can do is hope these counter-measures work against suicide bombing lunatics that want to needlessly kill innocent people because they are too dumb to realize how they have been exploited and manipulated by zealots.

A sporting event is a massive target, which is why Olympics organizers spend billions on security. But an NFL game is just as alluring - a Cowboys game routinely sits in excess of 90,000. A Taylor Swift concert can do over 60,000. A NCAA men’s basketball Final Four can hit 80,000.

These are highly concentrated areas where tens of thousands of people have to be rushed through relatively quickly. How much can security do to get everybody to their seat in a reasonable amount of time? Have you ever laughed at a security person “inspects” your bag?

It’s not as if the cops and law enforcement officials are not trying, but there are limits.

“The reality is we are reactionary - we will do something after it happens,” a Tampa police officer told me before the game. “I just had a conversation with my commanding officer about this - just to be on more of a lookout because of what happened in Paris. There is more (security) here than you see.”

In Paris at Stade de France the security measures “worked” as well as could be expected. The suicide bomber was reportedly stopped when stadium security discovered he was wearing explosives. The man reportedly had a ticket to enter the game, but was stopped before he was able to enter the soccer match between Germany and France at Stade de France.

As the man retreated, he detonated the explosives. The counter-measures worked - he didn’t enter the stadium. The concert in Paris that was targeted and hit by terrorists was not successful in preventing an attack.

After the attacks, the NFL released a statement saying there would be heightened security at its games, and asked that fans not bring bags into the stadiums.

Both the Tampa police officer and his partner said the Cowboys/Bucs game was staffed by SWAT teams, bomb sniffing dogs, a large number of uniformed cops as well as a good number of plain clothes officials. Then there is the usual metal detector that all fans must pass through.

I asked four fans after they walked through the entrances if these measures make them feel safer, and whether they would prevent an attack at such a large gathering of people. All four said no.

Since the 9/11 attacks, Americans are accustomed to increased security and have adjusted our clocks to add 10 or 15 minutes for such places, especially at airports. We do, but are annoyed, with such measures and yet are resigned that, in the end, all it takes is one lunatic to slip past a guy trying to do his job in a hurry.

The Cowboys/Bucs game began with a moment of silence for those who died in Paris, and then there was the kickoff, and those in attendance were focused on what they came here for - to enjoy their friends, family, and a football game. In that moment we all felt safe, because to think of the alternative is too damn scary.