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Inadequate security at U.S. sporting events invites trouble

By Mike Nadel
Special to the Observer

While entering an NCAA basketball tournament game last month in Washington, D.C., I hid two water bottles in the interior pockets of my oversized jacket. I just as easily could have smuggled in a bomb capable of taking out an entire section of the Verizon Center.

Although it is not yet known who is responsible for Monday’s attack at the Boston Marathon, the worry is that it could start a terrorist trend. For those seeking to do great harm, inflict a severe blow to the American psyche and get the most attention possible, it would be hard to top blowing up a stadium during a major sporting event.

Frankly, it’s surprising something similar to what took place in Boston hadn’t happened sooner. “Lax” doesn’t begin to describe security at our arenas.

Upon entering the Verizon Center for the Marquette-Syracuse game, I did not go through a metal detector. I was not patted down. No wand was passed over me. I was not sniffed by bomb-detecting dogs. I was not asked to unzip my jacket.

Just imagine how soft security would have been had President Obama not been in attendance.

On our way home, my wife and I joked that three Glocks, two assault rifles and a small nuke wouldn’t have been detected inside my jacket. Today, I’m not laughing.

Poor security at fan entrances to stadiums and arenas is only part of the concern. A major metropolitan sportswriter for 30 years, I routinely strolled into events big and small, barely acknowledged by guards. As the Chicago columnist for Copley Newspapers, I wrote back on Sept. 11, 2002 – the one-year anniversary of 9/11 -- that I was appalled by the indifference at media gates:

“Of the 100 or so events I have attended since last Sept. 11, my backpack has been properly inspected five times – tops. FOX and ESPN had hundreds of people scurrying around at the (Major League) All-Star Game; given my personal experience there, I seriously doubt they were checked out thoroughly. We all have passes. But if terrorists can get pilot licenses, they sure as heck can obtain media credentials.”

Have things improved in the decade since? Hardly. If anything, it seems the passing of time has made us even more complacent at media gates and public entrances.

A marathon is a unique event, much more difficult to protect because it is run along city streets. There are no entrances. Bombs can be detonated anywhere along the 26.2-mile route. Snipers can set up in hundreds of buildings.

Still, the Boston bombings at least should be a call for more vigilance at the start and finish areas, where most people congregate. London officials reportedly are working to secure the event that takes place there Sunday. Here’s hoping.

And here’s hoping we get serious about security at our stadiums and arenas.

Yes, pat-downs at NFL games already are annoying, and metal detectors at all events would be even more bothersome. Still, given our willingness to stand in long lines to buy beer and nachos, shouldn’t we tolerate minor inconveniences at arena gates to keep terrorists out and keep fans safe?

Mike Nadel is a Matthews-based freelance writer.
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