When Danville residents Daniel and Kathy Sheehan were subjected to a pat-down search in 2005 before entering Candlestick Park, they considered it to be an invasion of their privacy, which has been guaranteed by the California Constitution since 1972. They sued the 49ers but a divided Appeals Court upheld the football team's search policy.
The American Civil Liberties Union took the case to the Supreme Court on behalf of the Sheehans last week; the court has 90 days to decide whether the search is necessary to guarantee safety or whether patrons who get searched have their constitutional rights violated. The National Football League is arguing that people who attend games agree when they purchase tickets to abide by its conditions, which now include searches for contraband before being allowed into the stadium. This is NFL policy, not just that of the 49ers.
This California case will affect only three football teams - the Niners, the Oakland Raiders and the San Diego Chargers. But it is being closely watched by all the NFL teams as well as other sports franchises, although so far only the NFL conducts pat-down searches. But all franchises want the legal right to do whatever they feel they must to prevent disasters at their sporting events.
The ACLU attorneys have stated that there are less offensive ways to search people, such as the metal detectors used at airports. This may be so but the sad truth is that we are losing our freedoms every time we board an airplane or enter a crowded venue such as a football stadium. The future will undoubtedly hold many privacy vs. safety cases as we balance what we must do to guarantee safety and keep our freedoms intact. In this case, the pat-down seems an acceptable condition to ensuring that a football game is free from tragedy.