Sunday, June 16, 2013
The National Football League has announced a major rule change that has sparked a controversy, even though football season has yet to begin. That's because the new rule has nothing to do with players or the field. This rule is about the fans, particularly women, and it is not going over well, ABC News has learned.
The NFL's new policy sets limits on the size and type of bags that can be brought into stadiums.
Starting this preseason, women will no longer be allowed to carry standard-size purses into games. A small clutch no larger than a person's hand is OK. A large freezer bag passes, too. But anything else must be made of a clear material, such as plastic, and must not be larger than 12 x 6 x 12.
The NFL is selling its own version of the newly acceptable bag, although the league stresses that the branded version is not a requirement.
Some female fans have expressed outrage, saying they would rather stay home than be inconvenienced.
Others were concerned about having their privacy violated by the clear bags.
"I don't want everyone to see what's in my purse," said Cheyenne McMurray, an Indianapolis Colts fan who was enjoying a Saturday afternoon at a sports bar in downtown Washington, D.C. "They're still going to have to search the plastic bag. It's just going to make everyone more upset."
"I don't like this at all," she said of the rule change.
April Hartman, a Baltimore Ravens fan who was also at the sports bar, added, "I think you can make a weapon out of anything, so it doesn't make much sense."
Men might want to pay attention to the rule change, too. Purses are not the only thing on the NFL's list of banned accessories. Camera bags, fanny packs, backpacks, coolers and luggage are also unwelcome at stadiums as of this year.
Mike Usry, a lawyer in Washington, said he was concerned about his family.
"My brother has two young children and we're Jacksonville Jaguar fans," he said. "We go to games all the time. They've got a diaper bag, formula, all that stuff. I don't know what they're going to do."
Usry added of the NFL, "I think it was a good intention, but they'll have to revisit this."
NFL officials say they have already listened to feedback. Based on those conversations, they call the changes "a minor inconvenience" for most fans, and say the new rule produces a "win-win" situation of better safety and faster access to the stadium at security checkpoints.
Searches of large bags were cumbersome, they said, and they led to unnecessary crowding around the entry gates, a situation that can be dangerous.
"By taking this minor step we create a major improvement," said Jeffrey Miller, the league's chief security officer. "It really does dramatically increase our security posture at our stadiums.
"We'd be the first professional sports league to do this across the board, but I suspect that the other sports will also look very closely at this," Miller added, "And I wouldn't be surprised to see them implement similar measures."
Miller also said that in internal surveys conducted by the NFL, fans became more receptive to the policy change once they understood the safety factors involved. He also said the bombings earlier this year at the Boston Marathon, where powerful explosives were hidden in backpacks, were a factor in the decision-making.
"In other words, if we can't see into a large bag," Miller said, "we can't tell what's in that bag."
Safety expert Brad Garrett, ABC's crime and terrorism consultant, said he thinks the new rule strikes a reasonable balance between safety and privacy.
"The idea is to allow people to quickly move through security, but not have a bag big enough that you could potentially put some sort of explosive device in it," Garrett said. "I think it's a fair balance if you consider what someone can do with something just the size of a backpack. And I think it's another compromise we have to make because of this age of terror that we're presently living in."