MIAMI -- The Tampa Sports Authority called pat-down searches
at Tampa Bay Buccaneers football games an essential layer of
security in an age of terrorism and urged a federal appeals court
Tuesday to reinstate them.
Tampa is the only NFL city where the pat-downs have been
successfully challenged, although lawsuits have also been brought
in Chicago, Seattle and San Francisco, according to attorneys in
the Florida case.
Pat-downs are legal because a game ticket is a legal contract
between the authority and the fan, one that can be revoked for
virtually any reason, said Rick Zabak, an attorney for the sports
authority, a governmental board that owns and operates Raymond
He also said adequate notice was given about the pat-downs,
which the NFL instituted in 2005, and that Johnston's attendance at
several games indicated his consent.
The U.S. Justice Department has sided with the sports authority.
"NFL games are attractive terrorist targets," said Jonathan
Cohn, a deputy assistant attorney general in the Justice
Department's civil division. "There's no constitutional right to
watch a football game live."
A message left Tuesday evening with an NFL spokesman was not
At least two of the three judges on the 11th U.S. Circuit Court
of Appeals panel appeared sympathetic to the searches, which are
NFL policy at stadiums nationwide.
Senior Circuit Judge Peter T. Fay wondered whether terrorists
had to attack a sports venue before such steps are taken.
"So there's got to be an explosion at some stadium? What would
it take?" Fay asked lawyers for high school civics teacher Gordon
Johnston during oral arguments.
Johnston's attorney, John Goldsmith, argued that Johnston never
gave his consent for the searches and that the general threat of
terrorism does not justify broad pat-downs without specific cause
"There has to be some concrete and real danger," Goldsmith
Circuit Judge Stanley F. Birch Jr. seemed troubled by that
argument, given the changes in security at public events since the
Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
"Do you think there's a reasonable expectation of privacy any
more?" Birch asked.
U.S. District Judge James D. Whittemore last July upheld a state
court ruling that the frisking violates the Fourth Amendment
protection against unreasonable searches and seizures.
"It's like a slippery slope," Johnston, a season-ticket
holder, said after Tuesday's hearing. "If I lose these rights,
going to the games, then I'll lose other rights."
The judges did not indicate when they would rule.