Tuesday September 13th, 2011

The thought of running 80,000 fans at your average NFL stadium through a metal detector is pretty daunting, not to mention 110,000-plus at somewhere like Cowboys Stadium. Pretty soon, there might not be any other choice.

The latest in a growing list of incidents at sporting events took place Sunday night in New York -- on 9/11, no less -- when a Cowboys fan whipped out a stun gun during a scuffle with some Jets fans and was arrested for it. You can check out the video on Deadspin, if you're so inclined.

This comes less than a month after a series of ugly incidents at a 49ers-Raiders preseason game that resulted in two men being shot in the parking lot and another being beaten severely in a stadium bathroom. The news from that game was so horrifying, the two teams discontinued their annual preseason contest because of it.

Two immediate reactions to this latest in fan violence:

1. How can someone get a weapon into a sporting event?

2. Really?

Let's start with the first, because the answer is pretty obvious. There just isn't enough security at sporting events presently, at least when fans come through the gates. MetLife Stadium, home of the Jets and Giants, is supposedly one of the more vigilant spots in the league when it comes to that topic -- even going so far as to pat down some guests, which is more than most stadiums can say.

To some extent, this is for the fan -- we don't want to feel like we're entering a police state when you go to a game, and we certainly don't want to be subjected to strip searches or anything like that. So, the issue mainly comes back to that entry point into stadiums. If a man can get a stun gun through without a problem, who's to say someone couldn't tuck a gun in his pants or a knife in his pocket?

But, back to that other question. Really? This is what it's come to? It's bad enough that the combination of enthusiasm and alcohol occasionally results in a brawl in the stands, usually between fans of opposing teams.

Are we really at the point where we have to worry about people sitting next to us carrying weapons?

The response, unfortunately, looks like it's yes. Pretending otherwise leaves the door open for these isolated incidents to become more frequent and more dangerous.

There doesn't appear to be an easy solution, sadly. As reassuring as metal detectors would be from a safety standpoint, that plan is a logistical nightmare -- think of what the lines are at an airport security stop, then multiply it by about 100.

There are also issues metal detectors or added security at stadium entrances wouldn't help. The horrible April beating of a San Francisco Giants fan at Dodger Stadium occurred in the parking lot well after the game had ended, with no weapons involved except fists and feet.

The truth is that the majority of sporting events occur without any major incidents. Police and security teams are often easily able to handle the few rowdy fans that happen to get out of control.

At some point, though, there are too many stories about over-the-top behavior to ignore.

Remember going to games as a kid? It was the most carefree experience of your life, only occasionally interrupted by a fan being too loud or some yahoo running onto the field. Maybe that's looking back on things with rose-colored glasses.

In reality, these dangers probably always existed and we are just more aware of them now. But the fact that we know what can happen and have seen the results -- be it an in-stadium fight or a parking-lot beatdown or any number of unimaginable things that could come up in the future -- also gives us all a chance to safeguard against further issues in the future.

That starts, of course, with fans taking some responsibility for how they behave at sporting events. The majority do, though the tiny minority that acts out is what has us wondering about the safety issue in the first place. And I'm not sure I have any answers to curtail those moments when things spiral out of control. Hopefully, someone, somewhere does, because it feels like it is getting less and less safe to be a fan.

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