The National Football League sent its ticket-buying customers a new safety protocol Thursday: Ladies (or gentlemen), keep your purses at home.
Prompted in part by the April terrorist attack at the Boston Marathon, it was announced that bags of many sorts and sizes will be prohibited from Heinz Field and stadiums throughout the league via a new policy the NFL Committee on Stadium Security unanimously recommended last month. It will go into effect in the preseason.
Because University of Pittsburgh home games are also played at Heinz Field, the same restrictions will be in place for those games, and Penn State University officials are instituting a similar though slightly more restrictive policy.
According to the Steelers and the NFL, prohibited items include, but are not limited to: purses larger than a clutch bag, coolers, briefcases, backpacks, fanny packs, cinch bags, luggage of any kind, seat cushions, computer bags and camera bags. An exception will be made for medically necessary items after proper inspection at a gate designated for this purpose. Cameras, binoculars and phones are permitted so long as they are not carried in a separate bag.
As Myron Cope would've said, "That's a lotta gorgonzola" to Laura Duncan Phillips, a Canonsburg attorney and six-year season ticket holder, who said she has been consistently frustrated with inconsistent security policies at Heinz Field over the years.
"So should I duct tape my extra gloves [and] scarves to myself when it's 21 degrees and I'm about to sit outside for five hours? What am I, a wool mule?" she quipped.
Ms. Phillips said she's always taken a purse to games. Last season she pitched one in the trash along with most of its contents after stadium security said the bag was too big for entry.
Now the policy is at least better defined, if still potentially inconvenient. In addition to the clutch bags, the league said it will allow one-gallon clear plastic freezer bags, bags that are clear plastic, vinyl or PVC and do not exceed 12" x 6" by 12" and NFL-licensed clear plastic tote bags with team logos affixed to them.
That last detail raised skepticism in online forums, including comments on the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette website -- and from Ms. Phillips, who joked, "You can bring in these logoed bags we happen to sell" -- as to whether the NFL's true motivation was to sell more merchandise and concessions. But the league said it is part of a larger safety strategy for games.
Previously, ticket holders entering Heinz Field would be patted down by security personnel and their bag's contents given a cursory examination for contraband. Women were checked by female security guards and men by male security guards, which was often an inefficient process.
Under the new policy, bags will be inspected first at a secondary perimeter around the stadium, so that prohibited bags may be turned away before reaching the entry gates. Ticket holders are now checked with metal detecting security wands before entry.
All of the same policies will apply to Pitt home football games at Heinz Field, Pitt senior associate athletic director E.J. Borghetti said.
Penn State will take things a step further, prohibiting all bags starting this fall at Beaver Stadium. Each fan will be permitted to bring a clear one-gallon plastic bag for medical or child-care needs.
Last year, Penn State still allowed bags and purses as long as they weren't larger than 8.5" x 11" x 11". For the Blue-White Game in April, Penn State prohibited all bags, citing a need to do so in wake of the Boston attack. Those standards will now be the norm.
Asked why Penn State has decided to enact such a ban, Penn State athletics spokesman Jeff Nelson said it was "an additional layer of security for all our fans."
And that's basically what the NFL said, too.
"Our fans deserve to be in a safe and secure environment," Jeffrey Miller, NFL vice president and chief security officer, said in a release. "Public safety is our top priority. This will make the job of checking items much more efficient and effective. We will be able to deliver a better and quicker experience at the gates and also provide a safer environment. We appreciate our fans' cooperation."
Ms. Phillips was mostly unmoved by the sentiment.
"I do think there's a point there, but I think domestic terrorism has been a concern since Sept. 11, 2001. The only thing that gives me pause is Boston," she said, but added that the alcohol served at games can be more of a threat to public safety "than my lipstick."
Dan Gigler: firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter @gigs412. Ed Bouchette, Mark Dent and Sam Werner contributed. First Published June 13, 2013 2:15 PM