Tighter security has fans seeing clearly

Joe and Lynn Gurski and their infant son, Ryan, arrived prepared to see the New York Jets host the Jacksonville Jaguars at MetLife Stadium last week.

Tickets. Check. Keys and wallets. Check. Check. A clear plastic bag filled with baby formula, diapers and wipes. Check. Check. Check.

“I just brought the bare essentials,” said Lynn, who had Ryan in a baby carrier and his bottles and diapers in a bag in her left hand. “You make it work.”

The Gurskis were among the many fans starting to adapt to the NFL’s new, stricter bag policy, which was put in place after the Boston Marathon bombings in April. With few exceptions, fans attending games are allowed to bring into stadiums only small purses and handbags; small, clear plastic or vinyl bags; and one-gallon plastic freezer bags.

Shoulder bags, backpacks, briefcases, fanny packs, camera and binocular cases and even diaper bags are now forbidden. Coolers, thermoses and seat cushions with zippers are also banned. Blankets are still allowed, as well as gloves, hats and other items that can be stuffed in pockets or worn.

“We are looking at this as a progressive and reasonable step in light of current events,” said Brian McCarthy, a spokesman for the NFL. “Most people aren’t affected, and there’s a lot of room for everyone with a bag.”

While small, disposable bags are being handed out at stadiums, the league has not missed a chance to produce a line of see-through merchandise, including tote bags, messenger bags and drawstring backpacks with team logos. Among the 106 options available at the NFL’s online store, fans can buy a Cowboys beach tote for $12.95 or a Broncos high-end messenger bag for $19.95.

In coming up with its new policy, the NFL looked at what other leagues were doing as well as some colleges, including Michigan and other universities that do not allow any bags in their stadiums. The league’s Committee on Stadium Security had been considering tightening the bag restrictions before the bombings in Boston, and it voted unanimously in May to enact the new rules.

In addition to reducing threats, the NFL hopes that the new clear-bag policy speeds up entry into stadiums, where lines are typically longest about 15 minutes before kickoff.

Teams notified their season-ticket holders of the changes this summer, while other fans learned about the changes through news media reports. Some, though, were caught unaware at the first preseason games this month.

Many accepted the changes as part of the league’s ongoing effort to remain vigilant. Carrying a see-through bag to the game was no worse than taking a laptop out of a knapsack in a security line at the airport, some said, as long as it was in the name of safety.

“I’d rather be safer than sorry,” said James Kenny, a retired policeman from New Jersey. “It’s almost like the airports with the different liquids. If you have nothing to hide, it’s fine.”

Not everyone views the enhanced security measures so benignly. Some fans suspect that the changes were aimed at preventing people from bringing their own food and drinks into stadiums and forcing them to spend more at concession stands. Women are upset that the policy prevents them from taking the purses they would normally carry and forces them to expose the contents in the clear-plastic bags.

“It’s discriminatory against women,” said Katie McSherry, whose thoughts were echoed by her sister, Claire, and their friend Alyssa Rossi. “Men don’t have to worry about it.”

At the Jets preseason game, fans who arrived with bags deemed too large were allowed to remove the contents and place them in clear bags the stadium provided and then check their own bags. But women at other stadiums complained of having to return to their vehicles to stow their bags and of long lines and confusion when they tried to retrieve bags they had checked.

The policy inspired Lauren LaBorde and Colleen Allerton, two standup comedians, to produce a spoof video and a faux protest movement online.

In the video, the comedians bemoan their inability to take in large bags with sunglasses, bobby pins, sunglasses, turkey wraps, mirrors and gum. “These are the challenges women face in light of the NFL’s recent bag regulations,” they intone in mock seriousness. Viewers are urged to complain to the league.

The tighter restrictions are only the latest for the NFL In November 2001, the league banned coolers, backpacks, explosives and weapons. Four years later, stadium operators were told to do additional screening of fans based on alert levels. In 2007, limited pat-downs were added. In 2011, pat-downs below the knee were added to search for concealed weapons. Metal detector screening was added last year.

“The NFL is on the cutting edge, a leader in the sports industry in terms of looking at policies and procedures,” said Lou Marciani, the director of the National Center for Spectator Sports Safety and Security at the University of Southern Mississippi. “This way, for sure, you’re cutting down the risk and satisfying the demand of fans to get into the stadium faster.”