Bank of America Stadium Rappelling Incident

bofaLegendary songwriter James Taylor said it best.  “In my mind I’m goin’ to Carolina.  Can’t you see the sunshine.”  Well, there wasn’t much sunshine during the November 2, 2015 Monday Night Football game between the Carolina Panthers and the Indianapolis Colts.  It actually coincided with a torrential downpour.  But aside from the inclement weather, something very unusual occurred early in the 3rd quarter.

Two individuals, John Nicholson, 29, of Lewisburg, PA., and Erica Madrid, 35 of Washington, D.C., rappelled from the upper deck (Section 538) and spent thirty minutes dangling outside the mid-level press boxes.  Hanging in mid-air, the protesters unfurled a banner directed at Bank of America’s financial support of a liquefied gas fracking project headed by Old Dominion.

PanthersProtesters2The game continued on as security cleared a section below.  Charlotte firefighters eventually lowered the pair and they were taken into custody.  Two additional “accomplices” were also arrested: Angela Vogel, 30 of Philadelphia, PA., and David Baghdadi, 38, of Hot Springs, N.C.

Alright, let’s sift through this mess.

The most obvious question — taking into consideration the NFL’s clear plastic bag policy in tandem with the magnetometers and the rigorous screening process required by all 31 NFL stadiums… how on earth did they manage to smuggle in all this rappelling equipment?

I’m afraid the truth isn’t going to sit well with NFL security.  It probably wasn’t that difficult.  Newsflash: the harnesses could have been worn underneath their clothing and the metal hooks could have been passed off as belt buckles.  This equipment would invariably go undetected unless there was a physical pat down (a process the NFL has eschewed due to practicality and litigation concerns).

Two additional questions.  How did security not see the rappelling incident as it occurred and put a stop to it?  Well, it basically took place before anyone knew what happened.  The entire process took roughly 20 seconds.

The other trivial question:  How did they all obtain entry?  Evidence seems to indicate they lawfully purchased tickets through the NFL ticket exchange.

Time for a reality check.  I doubt this is some grand conspiracy or some horrific collapse of NFL security and their screening procedures.  The more logical explanation – It’s just a matter of people testing the “cracks in the system.”

There are a variety of scenarios that NFL security is well aware of but chooses to intentionally suppress, or at the very least, deliberately ignore.

I hate to state the obvious, but a banner tied to a recreational drone could have easily accomplished the same task and possibly made even bigger headlines.  Numerous drone incidents have been reported at stadiums, ballparks and other large, confined crowds.  Yet the subject remains “untouchable.”  The only solution is a reactive, punitive one… punishing the perpetrators of such acts after the damage has been inflicted.  One has to wonder if there’s a contingency plan for a drone hovering above the 50 yard line of any NFL outdoor stadium.  If there is, I’d certainly be interested in hearing it.

I think we learned something else from the rappelling incident — it exposed the NFL’s unwillingness to suspend a game or initiate a stadium-wide evacuation, even if it was just a precautionary evacuation to the concourses.

Interestingly enough, this is not the first time the Carolina Panthers stadium has dealt with a banner problem.  In 2012, there was a similar unorthodox publicity stunt that transpired ahead of a Bank of America shareholders meeting.

gfc_bofastadium_550x374Now as I see it, here’s the larger, overriding concern.  The Charlotte and Mecklenburg County police departments are calling for a complete investigation.  But NFL security wants to squelch any future discussion of the incident.  The NFL has a long and storied history of suppressing or completely ignoring “uncomfortable” topics regarding league security.  Why?  Because shining a light on these incidents could encourage copycat behavior and similarly publicity stunts.

The NFL just wants the whole escapade to quietly go away.  Outta sight, outta mind.  It’s a strategy they often employ.  This pattern of behavior is indicative of the decades-long concussion settlement and the recent scandal involving taxpayer-funded halftime military tributes.  Not to mention the scourge of domestic violence cases, drug violations, DUIs, weapons charges and even a dog-fighting ring.  The list is seemingly endless.

And that’s the conundrum.  Rather than address real-world stadium security issues, it’s in the best financial interest of the NFL (and the 32 billionaire owners) to conceal or ignore them… which brings me to my final point regarding stadium safety.

In the unlikely event of a real-world emergency venue evacuation, protocol dictates using the public address system in conjunction with the video monitors and the jumbotron.  They would not use cell phones.  They wouldn’t.  They shouldn’t.  They couldn’t.

However, inside every stadium are 50,000 – 100,000 active cell phones.  Is the NFL aware of this discrepancy?  Do they know there’s potential for exploitation?  Of course they do.

Realistically speaking, there’s only one reason a stadium evacuation order would ever be delivered via personal mobile devices — to injure and kill innocent people.  It would be part of a malicious hoax designed to create a panic conceivably resulting in an “artificially generated stampede.”

So will the NFL come clean and share this immeasurably obvious, generic public safety information with its fans?  Of course not.  It would violate their overriding motto — If you see something, don’t say something.  

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell often uses the phrase “protect the shield.”  It’s a reference to employ any measure required to safeguard the league and its multi-billion dollar brand.  Kinda like the mafia’s “omerta.”  Regrettably, this continued silence could result in a tragedy bordering on the horrific attacks of 9/11 — multiple, simultaneous stadium stampedes likely impacting the 1 o’clock slate of games.  It’s called a “dominipede.”  I think musician Alanis Morrissette sums it up best… Isn’t it ironic, don’t you think.