John Donovan
Thursday September 11th, 2003

I remember the lines outside of Yankee Stadium before Game 3 of the 2001 World Series. Seven weeks after terrorists changed the way we live, people waited, shoulder to shoulder, six, seven, eight deep behind metal detectors, just to get into the old stadium. Bomb-sniffing dogs patrolled the area. There were hundreds of New York's finest ringing the perimeter.

I remember the Yankees' Roger Clemens, maybe one of the most recognizable athletes anywhere, pulling out his wallet to show his ID before that game.

I remember the uneasiness, the fear.

Sept. 11 changed so many things. There's not a facet of American life that has gone untouched since that terrible morning in 2001.

Going to a ballgame, certainly, is different. It used to be as second nature as cheering for the home team or tailgating in the parking lot. It was routine. It was easy. It was, in a beautifully escapist way, comforting.

It's not that way now. Sometimes, in fact, going to the ballpark is not easy at all. Figuring out what you can take and what you can't. Standing in line. Going through security. Having your bags searched. It's hard.

But -- and this is important -- going to a ballgame is still a huge part of millions of people's lives. It was back in late September and October of 2001, just weeks after the attacks. It is now.

Rooting for the home team, making the pilgrimage to campus to watch the alma mater play, streaming into gleaming sports palaces every Sunday ... that's still there. All of it. It's still part of our culture. It's still part of us.

And there are a lot of people who are trying to make sure it stays that way.

You sit in the stands at a ballgame anymore and, if you let yourself think about it, if you take your mind off the game for a moment, you realize how much things have changed. You are a potential target now. Really, what could be easier for terrorists than striking a stadium full of thousands of happy American sports fans? What would strike deeper? What would cause more fear?

It's scary stuff. Nobody really wants to think about it. But, thank God, there are people who do. For a living. For our living.

"We think about it every day," says Kevin Hallinan, the senior vice president for security and facility management for Major League Baseball. "We continue to try to make it better each day, by critiquing [security] and reviewing it, because it's important. We have to get it right."

Baseball has spent millions of dollars -- probably tens of millions -- since Sept. 11 two years ago to make its stadiums safer. And baseball is not alone.

Ever since that day, virtually every sport that draws people to its games, from professional to high school, has worked to make sporting venues safer for fans. NCAA representatives, for example, were meeting within 24 hours of the attack. And they haven't stopped.

"We are constantly reviewing our policies and procedures," says Greg Shaheen, the managing director of the NCAA basketball tournament, "to achieve the delicate balance between providing [security] for our fans and student-athletes and others without infringing on their ability to enjoy the game ..."

Milt Ahlerich was grounded in a Denver hotel room in the hours and days after the attack. It was there that he began to hammer out plans, talking with other security officials around the country, on how better to protect fans at NFL games.

The efforts, in just about every sporting venue across the nation, always start way before fans ever make it to the park. There are security sweeps inside and outside of the stadium or arena. There is the ongoing training of game-day personnel. There are increasing restrictions on access to parks on non-game days.

And then, on game days, there are security checks of everyone who comes into the stadium, there are agents roaming the parks, there is non-stop communication among on-site security personnel, local law enforcement and, in many cases, other local, state and federal agencies.

"We hope you don't think about it," says Ahlerich, the NFL's senior director of security. "The idea is, once you get through the security screen, you come in and enjoy the game. And you think of it like heating, lighting and air conditioning. It's just there."

For the people who work to keep us safe as we continue to enjoy our games -- as we continue to live our lives -- theirs is a constantly changing job. There are potential new threats every day. There are new technologies that they must master.

And, of course, there is the biggest threat.

It's not as easy to go to a game as it once was, but it's easier than it was in the weeks immediately following the attack. The people who keep us safe have become good at this new way of doing business. They have become more efficient. They are experts at being vigilant.

But being vigilant is never easy. Complacency is a constant danger.

"It's a seven-day-a-week job," Hallinan says.

The games that we enjoy are still played. And this weekend, millions will sit, shoulder to shoulder, at college football games and at NFL games and at baseball games. Millions more will watch high school athletes play. Others will gather at different types of games all over the country.

Attendance for the NCAA basketball tournament actually increased this year, Shaheen says, even as war broke out in Iraq. "Our attendance numbers reflect that people understand," he says.

"The people who get the most credit, really, are the fans. They've been just wonderful," says Ahlerich. "There was a lot of concern about that. About how fans would react [to increased security].

"It tuned out that fans are common-sense fans. They are 'Just be consistent and thorough and let me in to see the game.'"

Two years have gone by. We live with new threats every day. We know that the bad guys will not stop.

But the people who are keeping us safe are not stopping, either. And neither are sports fans.

We are still going strong.

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