Stadium Searches

If I wish to pat you down before entering my home, to ensure you’re not carrying a weapon, it’s my property, and I have a right to do so (and you have a choice to consent to a search, or leave). If I own a store, and you have a backpack with you, I have a right to know what’s in that backpack before you enter, or you can refuse to consent to a search (and thus I turn you away).

But at some point, a judge has decided that the NFL, as the governing body of professional football, doesn’t have the same property rights with the stadiums its games are played in:

A federal judge has upheld a ban on security pat-downs outside Raymond James Stadium before Tampa Bay Buccaneers games, ruling Friday the practice violates the constitutional rights of fans.

“A generalized fear of terrorism should not diminish the fundamental Fourth Amendment protection envisioned by our Founding Fathers,” U.S. District Judge James Whittemore wrote in his 26-page order. “Our Constitution requires more.”

The ruling is a victory for Valrico civics teacher Gordon Johnston, 60, a Bucs season ticket-holder who filed suit against the Tampa Sports Authority in October 2005.

I can see some potential reasons why the judge would find this way. First, Raymond James stadium was partially taxpayer-funded, so under one reading, the government has a role in its policies and thus this is a government infringement on the Fourth Amendment. Another potential reason is that the Tampa Sports Authority, which administers the stadium’s operations, is a government agency, and thus this is government infringement on the Fourth Amendment. Since the suit was brought directly against the Tampa Sports Authority, this is where I think the reasoning must have come (having not read the ruling myself).

But I think both arguments fail due to one crucial fact. It is not the government who is setting these policies or ensuring their compliance. It is the NFL. The NFL, as the governing body of a VOLUNTARY league, have decided that their fans might feel more secure in a stadium if fellow fans are searched before they are allowed to enter the stadium. This is the NFL’s decision, not the government’s.

That being said, I think it’s a stupid decision. Given the ineffectiveness of the “search” they perform, it’s nothing more than an annoyance. It will take very little ingenuity to smuggle something past this “search”. In fact, I think it’s much more likely that the real result of this policy will be to find contraband (such as outside food and drinks), not to actually improve the safety of fans.

But I realize that it’s my choice to attend an NFL football game, and that should I determine that I want to enter the NFL’s stadium and view the game, I might have to submit to the policies that they have set. Anything else is a violation of the NFL’s right to set the conditions under which their games are played.