Sacked by the NFL

The league’s new bag policy aims to make attending games safer, but is it really just a nuisance? So far there’s no clear answer

The NFL's new bag policy has caused some confusion among fans used to entering the game with no problem. (Wilfredo Lee/AP :: Ric Tapia/Icon SMI)
The NFL’s new bag policy has caused some confusion among fans used to entering the game with no problem. (Wilfredo Lee/AP :: Ric Tapia/Icon SMI)

By Emily Kaplan

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — At 10 a.m. Sunday, Maria Gonzalez began to prepare. The 33-year-old single mother was taking her four-year-old son to his first NFL game. “Is it time yet?” Christopher asked his mother, again and again. He had slept in his green Mark Sanchez jersey, and all morning he chanted, “Let’s go Jets!”

“He’s been looking forward to this for a while,” said Gonzalez, who bought the tickets two months ago. “But I knew it would be a long day. I wanted to make sure I had enough to keep him busy.”

She made a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on wheat bread—no crusts, cut in quarters—and packed it in a clear zip-lock bag. She grabbed an apple juice box, a bag of Goldfish, a pack of playing cards, a dinosaur coloring book and a box of crayons. Gonzalez scurried around her Bronx apartment for other things she might need: a three-ounce bottle of sunscreen, ChapStick, a pack of tissues, a bottle of aspirin, baby wipes. She stuffed it all in a black, nylon cross-body purse, along with her wallet and keys.

At 1:30 p.m., Gonzalez’s friend picked them up. They drove to MetLife Stadium.

At 2:37 p.m., the group was turned away at the gate. Gonzalez’s bag was three inches too big.

By now you’ve probably heard about the NFL’s clear-bag policy, put in place this season. The league says the policy was made to increase security at games. Now, everything must fit into one clear, plastic, or PVC bag, no larger than 12 inches by 6 inches by 12 inches. Fans can also bring a one-gallon clear plastic freezer bag. Small clutch bags, “approximately the size of a hand,” can be brought in along with the plastic bags. “I had heard of the policy,” Gonzalez said. “I just thought my bag was OK.”

Not so, said the MetLife employee at the checkpoint outside the gate. He stood by a gray folding table, which featured a neon orange rectangle painted on top. He took Gonzalez’s purse and measured it against the rectangle.

“Too big,” he said. “I’m sorry ma’am.”

“Are you kidding?” Gonzalez asked, her voice rising.

“Stadium policy,” he said. “You can’t bring it inside.”

“But look!” Gonzalez said, as she opened the bag and began taking objects out and placing them on the gray table. First the baby wipes. Then the peanut butter and jelly. “You can search what’s inside,” Gonzalez said, her voice higher and quicker than before. She looked the man in the eyes. “There’s nothing bad in there. You can see. Scan it. Do whatever.”

“I know ma’am,” said the man, his voice calm. He, too, looked her in the eyes. “But I just can’t let you in with that. I’m going to have to ask you to step aside.”

She held Christopher’s hand and led him back to her friend’s car, two parking lots away. They weaved through hundreds of tailgaters, walking for 18 minutes. When they arrived, Gonzalez stuffed as much as she could in her pockets. Then they walked back to the gate without the bag and entered the stadium.

“I mean, I get it, I understand,” she said. “But doesn’t this all seem excessive?”

* * *

Let’s talk about how this story started—with a 79-year-old woman. In last week’s Monday Morning Quarterback column, Peter King ran a letter to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell from The MMQB writer Robert Klemko’s grandmother. Her name is Barbara Johnson. She’s a retired postal service worker and current small business owner. She’s an Oakland Raiders fan and has been to at least one game every year since their inception in 1960.

They Said It

On Sunday, The MMQB dispatched reporters to two games to get the pulse of fans entering stadiums—in East Rutherford and Minneapolis—on the clear-bag issue. A sampling of their reactions:


“I figured it would help security. And we are all for that.”


“I hate it. I think it’s an overreaction to what’s happened, and they’re picking on women.”


“If you wanted to get in a weapon of some sort, it wouldn’t be hard.”


“You can carry a purse on an airplane, but you can’t bring it into a football game. I had a camera I wanted to bring, and now I can’t take a picture with my friend.”


“I understand it. If you think of how much stuff you can hide ... ”


“Everything feels like a typical Jets game. Same scene, same rush to get into the gates, just like any other year.”


“In the first game, maybe there was some confusion, but now everyone seems to know the drill. Even if people argue, you rarely see backups.”

She disagrees with the clear-bag policy. She wrote: “Let’s be honest: There’s one hundred ways to bring a gun or a knife into an NFL stadium, and no clear bag is going to stop that. If two boys can sneak into the Super Bowl and make a YouTube video documenting it, I’m pretty sure someone can sneak a weapon in.”

The NFL contacted Klemko about his grandma. It wanted to explain its side. On Saturday morning NFL director of strategic security Ray DiNunzio called Johnson. They spoke for 45 minutes.

DiNunzio, a retired FBI agent with experience in counterterrorism, agreed with Johnson that the new measure, in part, was due to the Boston Marathon bombing: “Typically, new measures come as a response to something.”

He said in 2011 the NFL had specific information that the U.S. was still at risk of terrorism—including intelligence that enemies of the United States were trying to inspire homegrown extremists. That prompted the NFL to add a below-the-knee pat-down to the security process. (In 2012 the league shifted to a handheld metal detector that took less time and was less invasive).

At the Boston Marathon, DiNunzio said, the area around the finish line was secured the morning of the race. Then people flooded in without any kind of security bag check. “And we all know what happened,” DiNunzio said. “That was part of the reason for the new bag policy, but not all of the reason.”

He said the vast majority of fans—upwards of 95 percent, by his estimation—were in favor. Of course, he knew there would be opposition. “Some people think we’re already over the line and others think we’re not doing enough,” DiNunzio said. “The director of the FBI always says, ‘Nobody wants security until they need security.’ ”

But Johnson doesn’t think clear bags increase security. “I was stopped like everyone else and they looked through my bag, the same thing they were doing all the time,’’ she said.

“With the bags we’re allowing, no one can bring a pressure cooker or another device that we associate with terrorism,” DiNunzio said. “We feel as though the size of the bag we’re permitting will not permit somebody to bring the kind of explosive that somebody brought to Boston.”

“There is no more safety with my Raiders tote bag and that clear bag,” Johnson said. “Please tell me why it’s safer.”

“You’re right, you can’t prevent terrorism,” DiNunzio said. “But you can harden your target, you can make it less convenient to target our stadiums.”

In the end, they agreed to disagree.

***

These fans were turned away at the gate before the Vikings-Browns game for not having the proper bag. (Jenny Vrentas/SI)
These fans were turned away at the gate before the Vikings-Browns game for not having the proper bag. (Jenny Vrentas/SI)

On Sunday, two reporters for The MMQB spent a combined six hours surveying the checkpoint process at MetLife Stadium and the Metrodome. We examined how the policy was carried out and whom it was affecting. We polled 100 adult fans and asked them the same two questions: Are you in favor of the clear-bag policy? Do you believe it increases security? You can see the results of our survey to the right.

By The Numbers

Are you in favor of the clear-bag policy?



No—59 (36 women, 23 men)

Yes—38 (12 women, 26 men)

Neutral—3 (1 woman, 2 men)


Do you believe it increases security?


Yes—64 (32 women, 32 men)

No—36 (17 women, 19 men)
 

There is an interesting divide in our small sample size. The majority was against the policy, while believing it increased security. So why are people against something they believe can make stadiums safer? Most in this group think the measure just goes too far; that the NFL is overreacting and the inconvenience takes away from the game-day experience.

Anthony Bryant, a Jets fan from Edison, N.J., has attended at least two games a year since 1973. He might best sum up that sentiment. “Do I feel safer? Yeah, I guess so,” he said. “But I’m sure there’s other ways to do it besides creating this kind of hassle.”

The fans in favor of the policy largely felt it couldn’t hurt. “I’ve been going to games since I was two, and I’m used to security saying, ‘You can’t, you can’t, you can’t,” said 28-year-old Jets fan Christian Imperato. “What’s one more rule?”

The fans opposed to it had much stronger opinions. “Ridiculous,” said University of Minnesota-Duluth student Lauren Munson, turned away at the Metrodome 45 minutes before kickoff. Her black cross-body bag was about a half inch too big.

Many claimed the policy was sexist and discriminated against women. “I’m OK because I’m a male and all I bring—phone, wallet, keys—I can fit in my pockets,” said Cole Tessler, a 20-year-old Jets fan from Westport, Conn. “But what about women? What about people with kids?”

Ashley Viland of Fargo, N.D., attended the Vikings game with her two sons. She left her four-month-old daughter at home with a relative, unsure if she could pack everything she needed—bottle, food, blanket, pacifiers—in the permitted-size clear bag. “Kind of a pain in the butt,” Viland said.

“It’s annoying more than anything,” said 17-year-old Catherine Bond of Long Beach, N.Y., who took public transportation to the game. Her orange cross-body bag was about two inches too big. All that was inside: Her glasses, lip balm, wallet and keys. “They just sent me away and now I’m stuck figuring out options.”

“An inconvenience,” said Nick McCarthy, 20, attending the game with Bond.

The MMQB stood by one of the entry checkpoints at the Meadowlands between 3:55 p.m. and 4:15 p.m., minutes before the 4:25 start. In that 20-minute span, 864 fans passed through. Six were sent away.

None of the instances caused a backup or delay. Each time, the fan stepped to the side and spoke to a supervisor. But reminders of the clear-bag policy were sprinkled everywhere. When fans entered the parking lots they were given a clear bag and a note card explaining what’s permitted. At the gate an hour before kickoff, you could find several of those bags floating in the wind.

Outside each gate at MetLife Stadium there was a “Bag Check” trailer—a coat check, of sorts, for impermissible bags.

And inside the main concourse of the Metrodome, an employee stood outside a Vikings’ apparel booth, holding up a small clear purse. “Twelve dollars on the bag!” he called out to passing fans. “Don’t get turned away! Get the official bag!”

For now, it’s clear: This is the new normal.

(Jenny Vrentas contributed reporting to this story.)

More from The MMQB
48 comments
HanKamSteelers
HanKamSteelers

Does anybody know if you can take a notepad into the game? We have front-row seats and my son is desperate to get an autograph.

rfaquino
rfaquino

That's just another reason why I am not going to football games any more. My HDTV gives me a much better view and I can control the instant replay as much as I want. Screw the NFL!

MrMister
MrMister

 The reason that the policy is stupid is that it focuses only on the bag reguardless what is in it. We still bring the oversize bag we want, we just place the empty bag (not too bulky) in a jacket pocket and hold the items that don't fit in our pockets as we enter the stadium. Once we are inside we take the bag out and put our stuff in it again.

joanhou
joanhou

Farcical policy cloaked in "security" & time saving to make it more palatable is BS and discriminatory. What's the point of a clear bag when video demos show one full to capacity? How is that more secure? Why do even near empty bags still have to be checked? Take care of aluminum bottles being torn in half to be used as weapons in the stands. Take care of drunk, cursing loud mouths. Oops, that's revenue.

M30
M30

The terrorists have won.  Our way of life has significantly changed in many different facets.  

Signed,

Someone currently serving in Afghanistan

Will10
Will10

Thanks oh yeah I forgot that the boston bombing happened at an nfl stadium during game

KendraKroll
KendraKroll

Sure, the new policy can be an inconvenience, but really doesn't have to be a big deal if you're prepared. Like anything else, it's just going to be an adjustment.  Given that pockets are acceptable, why not simply wear clothing that has lots of them (try Scottevest), or if your clothes don't have enough, PortaPocket can help.  I think some gals are often way too dependent on having their life in their purses. Why not just put the expendables in that (clear) bag and WEAR the more important things?  No babysitting the bag necessary.  (yay!)  I haven't carried a purse in the traditional sense in over 6 years. And don't miss it. Ahh.... freedom!

westcoastbias
westcoastbias

Another solution:

1) people with conforming bags get the normal line and processing speed.

2) people who want more stuff and larger bags go through a bag emptying and search process, in a separate line, and they wait the extra time it takes.  The length of that extra wait will eventually ration the percentage of people who want to spend that time for the convenience.


brian.hjalmarson
brian.hjalmarson

Disney parks figured this out a long time ago.  Set up your system to inspect peoples' bags instead of forcing clear bags.  This was a quick fix that is gender biased.  It also seems very much like a gimmick that the NFL saw they could take advantage of.  Allow their own clear bags as the largest possible option forcing people to buy your product.  That does not sound safety driven.

Mike26
Mike26

This policy is only a problem for two major groups of people:

1.  People that are attending games ONLY for non-football reasons that feel the need to bring half their vanity with them

2.  Kids too young to be there in the first place.

PaulP1
PaulP1

They have the same rules at NASCAR races (sort of) for the same reasons since 9/11.  The sell clear bags at the souvenir stands that are legal to bring into the track, but they are full sized backpacks.  But, and here's the kicker, you can bring in your own full sized cooler (to a certain size, it basically has to fit under the seat).  These can be hard sided style coolers.  They check them, but just to make sure you aren't bringing in glass containers. 

DaveG
DaveG

Game in December. Guy enters the stadium with the regulation see through bag. He and 90% of the fans are wearing heavy winter parkas.  He goes into one of the stalls in the washroom and removes the small automatic weapon he has taped to the small of his back.  He re-enters the stadium ...  

As locks are for honest people, this kind of "security" is for honest people as well.  I can easily think of any number of ways to get things that go bang into a stadium.  Are the TV trucks searched?  How about the tons of hot dogs?  What about a bomb that is planted two weeks before the game?  The REAL terrorists, domestic or foreign are figuring out ways to kill people - by the hundreds if possible - and see though bags won't help. 

The NFL is doing this so that you can't sneak in food and drink, as the NFL is nothing if it's not about the money.  One more reason to buy that 50 inch TV and stay at home.

T.Christian
T.Christian

This is perfect!! When I go to a game at the dome I will wear my clear disposable rain suit.... and nothing else. This should speed the process and make it so they do not need to even use the wand. Heck, if this works it will become my new flying outfit as well.

ColinProctor
ColinProctor

Security policy is ridiculous for some. It wouldn't bother me or my girlfriend at all. She carries a clutch, those are allowed. 

First problem with the first example: you are bringing a small child to an NFL game. I'm sorry but these games are no place for kids, and who is going to pay that much money to bring someone to a game that needs to be otherwise entertained?!

bluemagoo
bluemagoo

It's called "security theater" by security experts. It provides no real security it just gives an impression that things are safer. A total waste of time in my opinion. One more reason to watch games at home.

pjburrage
pjburrage

Interesting to note that these policies were initially applied to the game at Wembley this weekend. However they have been relaxed to the bag policy that has been in place at every previous International Series game. For those that do not know, Wembley Stadium is in an area that is made up of a mix of Residential property, Retail Parks, and Industrial Units. There is limited car parks, and fans are advised to travel to the stadium by Underground and other forms of public transport. Whereas in the US, many fans travel to the game in their own car, and can return to their car to get rid of excess baggage, that would not have been an option at Wembley.

As said at the start, the NFL/NFLUK/Wembley Stadium have decided (after much discourse from fans this side of the Atlantic) to operate a similar policy to that which was in operation last year at the Olympics in the same city. This policy worked last year, despite the typical pessimism from the British public in the months preceding. We are not strangers to draconian measures, the threat from dissidents from Ireland during the times of the troubles in Northern Ireland were real, and often quite violent in nature, meant we were always wary of unattended bags. The attacks we had on the Underground in July 2005 (the day after the city won the Olympics) put security front and centre of the concerns for the Olympics.

chicky
chicky

In no way does the Clear Bag Policy make me feel safer. And here's where...WHEN I LEAVE!...Taking public transit to the NY Jets games (which the team strongly encourages via Jersey Transit) allows everyone and their mother to see my wallet, id, iPhone, etc. for the taking. If I'm a target for a robbery how does that make me feel safe NFL? Also, the policy clearly targets women and it's embarrassing. I can't wait for 82,000+ people to see my tampons when I get my period! woohoo!!...NOT! 

donald5
donald5

These security people can get fired for making exceptions.  If they let you in, they might not be able to buy groceries next week.  It might be a stupid rule but don't take it out on the security that is following instructions.


josephfinn
josephfinn

"but is it really just a nuisance?"


Yes.  We needed an article more than five sentences long for this?  It's a nonsense piece of security theater to keep any outside food and drink in and increase in-stadium sales.


"He said the vast majority of fans—upwards of 95 percent, by his estimation—were in favor. "


That is a bald-faced lie.


Akarik
Akarik

Requiring everyone to be naked would also increase security.

mikeytrapp
mikeytrapp

This policy is nonsense.  And like a lot of statements from the league offices, DiNunzio's estimate that 95% of fans are in favor of it is pure unadulterated B.S..  Well, at least they're consistent.

gmmorr
gmmorr

Can anyone explain the logic of having a huge jam of people at the security checkpoint trying to get through.  Anyone looking to harm with a weapon or bomb can easily do so at the checkpoint - when there are more people crammed closer together - than they probably could in the stadium itself.

bulldawgmama
bulldawgmama

I'm also disappointed in the clear bag policy and agree that it unfairly targets women. Women who carry the clear bags have no privacy. I've seen credit cards and cash just floating around in the bags, ripe for the taking. I am a Denver Broncos season ticket holder - the weather is crazy in Denver. Some days start out sunny, but you know you'll need a hat and gloves by the 4th qtr. It's hard to fit everything in the clear bag. Not sure the new policy makes me any safer - just annoyed.  

BarbaraAJohnson
BarbaraAJohnson

Does anyone really believe that the fans who are trying to get into the stadium to watch the game are scrutinizing other fans CLEAR plastic bag to see it they can see something that might cause harm at the game? I don't. I know If it is a raider game and the participants have been tailgating, NO WAY! They are just trying to find the end of the line as they chant RAAAAAAIIIIIIDDDERS!!! and get in side to get more libations before kick off.

EdwardWilliamKuleszaII
EdwardWilliamKuleszaII

This policy, while created in good faith, is ridiculous. Most of my female friends are furious because they dont have a purse/bag that meets the requirements. The fact that the NFL posted on its site and elsewhere that fans can purchase an official team bag highlights the point. This is a money making ploy plain and simple. "You can't bring that in Miss, but why don't you go to the Pro Shop and buy an official Giants bag for your things." Shameful. I agree with Mrs. Johnson, this policy doesn't make anyone safer, it only aggravates the fans while attempting to force them to buy something they dont want or need.


CharlesHenry3
CharlesHenry3

There is no way that 95% are in favor of it.  Heck, you can't even get 95% of people to agree that a sunny day with a cool breeze is good!

I had a dozen friends attend a game a few weeks ago, and they hated it.  They don't feel as though they are any safer, and I would concur.  So you do a bag check, so what!

I'm sorry, but this is a situation where we're working the wrong end of the problem.

windlaker
windlaker

The Terrorists have won!  This Country is changing it's way of life.

windlaker
windlaker

" He said the vast majority of fans—upward of 95 percent, by his estimation—were in favor."   Ray DiNunzio is a bald faced liar.  There is no way the "95% of the people" are in favor.  Just stand in line getting into the stadium and listen to the grumbling.  95% my ass!

dhartm2
dhartm2

LOL@ the NFL guy who said 95% of the fans are for it.  If you're going to make up statistics, at least make them believable.  95% of people in this country probably couldn't agree on whether or not kittens are adorable.  Also, I think any article addressing this without at least mentioning the actual reason (MONEY) the NFL is doing it kind of misses the point.

Mike26
Mike26

@joanhou If it's too terrible of an inconvenience for you then don't go.

Mike26
Mike26

@KendraKroll Kendra:

Logic, facts and common sense have no business here on a blog - not when there's false cases of gender bias to be made and moronic connections to Obama to be made!

woodysc
woodysc

@Mike26 

1.   I like to use binoculars to watch a football game.  But my bag to carry them (which is small and can be worn on my belt) is not allowed.  

2.  The team whose games I attend provides entertainment specifically geared toward young kids.  So clearly, they expect them to be there.  Indeed, in addition to the cartoon like mascot, they provide opportunities for young children to take part in half time activities as well as having pregame areas designed for children.  

 

windlaker
windlaker

@Mike26  

MIke26... Who are you to decide how young kids should be to come to games?  Sounds like 0bama... micro-managing our lives.

Will10
Will10

Whoa what happened? Did he shoot anybody? Was he arrested?

Mike26
Mike26

@DaveG Your first point was valid and unstoppable by the NFL.  The rest of it is ranting against a league by someone either bitter by not being able to attend games or by his favorite team being poor (Jets fan?).

Mike26
Mike26

@T.Christian Did you tell all your friends in the lunchroom before recess your story too?

Mike26
Mike26

@ColinProctor It's only ridiculous for people that are coming to the game for non-football reasons OR people who shouldn't be coming to games (young kids, etc.).

donald5
donald5

@Akarik Not having any fans allowed in the stadium would as well

donald5
donald5

@gmmorr I suppose it has a great deal to do with liability.  The league is less liable if you are trying to get into an event when you are injured than if you are at the event when you get injured.  

donald5
donald5

@bulldawgmama The word target should be replaced with affects.  It targets people with bags.  I hardly think the NFL is targeting women.  Why would they?  Targeting people with bags incidentally affects women.

Mike26
Mike26

@woodysc @Mike26 Young kids don't need diapers, cream, food, etc. and therefore don't need a large bag to attend (or their mother doesn't).

Toddlers and infants DO NOT have any business attending games and therefore don't need oversized bags and immeasurable amounts of goods to make it through a game.

Anyone believe I'm an Obama-merican clearly has no credibility.

MrMister
MrMister

 @windlaker @Mike26 
Obama? really?
If only Obama would allow the NFL to arme all the fans with assult rifles (with a beer holder) that would prevent any problems.
Everyone theres more room on this crazy train.

Will10
Will10

Yeah, when I heard that comment the first thing I thought was so obama!

Newsletter