Jorge Avila had already trekked back to his car twice and was chugging a Snapple from a plastic bottle when I found him outside Gate 5 at Ralph Wilson Stadium before this year’s first preseason home game.
First, it was his camera bag that didn’t live up to the new NFL security standards. Then, he discovered the souvenir football he had just bought his 10-year-old son wasn’t allowed. And before he could enter the gate, he had to give up the Snapple.
It was, Avila thought, all a bit sad.
“It’s tragic that we have to go to that,” said Avila, in town from Pasadena to sell healing balm at the Erie County Fair. “You’ve got to be able to trust people. I mean, a football, really?”
Trust – it’s a sadly quaint idea, really. Not after Sept. 11. Not after Boston.
We long ago adjusted to the idea that we’ll never again kiss loved ones goodbye just moments before they board a plane. We’re resigned to walking in airports in our socks and passing under cameras on street corners.
But when will it be enough? What’s the balance between safety and sanity?
The NFL’s new stadium rules – which ban most bags except the smallest clutch purses and certain clear bags – rankled more than a few fans Friday. Some wondered if it wasn’t just a grab at more concession money by making it tougher to sneak in contraband beers and bottled waters.
“I don’t live in a high-crime area where there’s terrorists and everything else,” said Carol Whittam, a season ticket-holder whose Coach purse – just slightly larger than her neatly manicured hand – earned her a trip back to the parking lot. “Just my opinion.”
Nobody wants another tragedy. Nobody wants to look back and wonder if more could have been done. But at some point, the focus on stopping random, large-scale attacks overlooks the more realistic risks.
There are plenty of threats at sporting events and large concerts. Terrorism, sadly, is among them – but it’s remotely among them. Getting hit by a drunk driver or beaten by a rowdy fan or getting sick from binge drinking are much more realistic concerns.
“Terrorists depend on the idea that we’re going to be terrorized,” President Obama said earlier this month on an appearance on “The Tonight Show” with Jay Leno. “We’re going to live our lives, and the odds of people dying in a terrorist attack, obviously, are still a lot lower than in a car accident.”
We can live our lives in fear – trading all sense of normalcy for the illusion of safety – or we can focus on preventing the more plausible perils.
The good news is that, along with the new NFL rules, the changes for the new season include 128 more uniformed officers at Ralph Wilson Stadium. The Bills will pick up the tab for the extra sheriff’s deputies, although you could argue, given the team’s subsidies, that it’s still a public cost.
The added deputies will do much more to make the stadium safer than a ban on diaper bags, purses and zippered seat cushions.
Back at Friday’s game, I saw a young couple heading to their car with a small purse that fit within a gallon-sized Ziploc bag. They were in too much of a hurry to stop for an interview.
“We’re Canadian. I don’t like it,” the woman said over her shoulder as she walked away. “You guys are too uptight.”