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Sir, could you remove your hat?

May 6, 2011

A few weeks ago, I attended the new Yankee Stadium for the first time. I was simply delighted by the prospect of seeing the Yankees play in person again after being out of state for several years. Like all parts of New York, and America as a whole, as I’ve grown into adulthood Yankee Stadium has become tighter and tighter with their security. In this day and age, I expect bags to be inspected and to occasionally see someone removed from a line and patted down. It is what some call the price we pay for safety.

As I had anticipated, before my ticket was even turned in I passed through a security check point. Now I’m no stranger to being “randomly selected,” it’s a side effect of purposely choosing to look distinct. I sport a large bushy beard, dark curly hair that falls well past my shoulders, and rarely do I leave the house without my black leather trench coat or black cowboy hat. Somewhere deeply ingrained in our collective unconsciousness I fit the description of someone who is going to cause trouble. While this is far from the case, I’m actually a friendly and law-abiding citizen, I’ve come to accept that this is how I am perceived. I also understand that when I get patted down it gives the impression that security officials are doing their job with a purpose rather than when they frisk elderly women with oxygen tanks. Such is the state of my existence in today’s world.

Still I walked past the security check point in front of Gate 6 and found that there didn’t seem to be any problem. No pleasant but slightly hostile, “Sir, would you kindly step to your right for additional screening.” Just as I begin to think that everything will be fine and I will for once be able to enter a public area without hassle, the security guard asks me, “Sir, could you remove your hat?”

I paused, and turned around since I found the request somewhat odd. Still, I kindly removed it and he then asked me to turn it so he could see the inside of it. A request that I also complied with. I then went through the stadium with no other part of my person searched or patted, and no other attempts to question what other purpose I might have at a Yankee game than to watch it.

It wasn’t until some point in the third or fourth inning that I suddenly found myself wondering what I possibly could have been hiding in my hat. My hat isn’t particularly large, it’s far from the famous 10-gallon hat, in fact it’s a rather tightly fitting cowboy hat. At most there are a few inches of empty space that I could have crammed something into. Certainly there wasn’t even enough space to contain a knife or an explosive that could do more than blow off a door’s handle (if movies and television provide a proper guideline for explosives that is). If I was to assume that it was not for safety purposes but fear that I might be smuggling in some form of outside food or drink, I can’t help but wonder what exactly I might have been hiding. A soda or beer can couldn’t fit without being obvious, and a flask would have been better suited to a coat pocket or my boots. The only possible thing I could have crammed into my hat comfortably would have been a juice box, and if someone is going to go to the lengths of hiding a juice box in their hat than they certainly want that juice more than most security guards are paid to care about them having it and besides what harm does it do? After all, I don’t even believe that you can purchase juice at Yankee Stadium.

I suddenly became very troubled by the ridiculous request that I had complied with earlier that day. As I think about it, I can’t imagine what use it might have possibly served the stadium especially as I was not asked to turn out my pockets, remove my jacket, or to step to the side for a pat down. I easily could have been smuggling in sandwiches, soda bottles, or bags of chips. As I ponder the size of my trench coat, I come to realize it’s possible that I could carry a veritable picnic within it or on the darker side all manner of dangerous objects. Within a hat however, I have no space to contain anything that could threaten Yankee Stadium or its several thousand guests.

As I’ve thought of this strange occurrence since it happened though, I’ve discovered something much more troubling. That it actually took me several innings to realize how ridiculous a request it was. When the security guard asked me to take off my hat, I was slightly confused but still I complied without a second thought. Furthermore, myself and everyone I was traveling with thought it stranger that I had been asked to only remove my hat.

In the post-9/11 world that I’ve come of age in it is acceptable that I anticipate being harassed to do something as simple as watch a baseball game. Requests to remove articles of clothing are not strange because we as citizens can’t trust each other to not carry knives into public venues but for what articles of clothing we are asked to remove. I’m not pointing this out because I believe that we as Americans can rally together to take back our rights. I bring it up because I have realized that we can’t.

If we had truly cared about our right to not be hassled on trains, in airports, or at public festivals, and sporting events, we would have put up a much stronger fight nearly ten years ago. Even now with bills being proposed to make full body scanners mandatory at airports, pleas to oppose these come from what most people would call ‘crazy liberals’ or ‘whacky libertarians’. The hubbub caused by their installation in airports has already been forgotten in the wake of who will be the Republican candidate in 2012 or whatever nonsense Charlie Sheen has gotten himself into this time.

I know that when I was asked to remove my hat, I was only thinking about going into the stadium and not the strange hoop I had to jump through to get in. I didn’t care what I had to do, because I wanted to see the game. The ability to only have to remove my hat must have been somewhat relieving at the time since after all, I had been anticipating a full body pat down.

If I had protested and said that I would not remove my hat because it had been ridiculous, I wonder what would have happened? The simplest answer is that I would have either received a pat down or not been let in to the stadium. I would’ve also bothered everyone behind me in the line, for being some mad man for doing something so simple as refusing to remove a hat. For what political point is truly made by standing up to the nonsense of security checks?

A friend of mine once told me that someone he knew would refuse to show photo identification when they boarded planes because they had the legal right to do so. There was until very recently no law compelling anyone to show their driver’s license or passport or what have you to a TSA official to board a plane. You had to submit to their searches and have a boarding pass but you could refuse to show them any identification. I share this because what that young man thought was a noble political point about privacy was presumably remembered only as a nuisance by the TSA official and the people in line behind him.

That is truly why we jump through the hoops when we go into these places. It isn’t as some state when they inevitably quote Benjamin Franklin, people giving up their liberty in exchange for safety. Everyone who has been patted down, detained, or unnecessarily screened in America has no illusions about how this affects their safety. Even those that don’t get randomly selected know that it is one grand cosmic joke. We put up with it because it is always more convenient to not ask questions, or to raise a fuss over things. Whether it is our political rights and how they are slowly and inevitably being changed or the fact that the guy behind the counter at the store won’t accept our one hundred dollar bill for a candy bar.

As I said earlier this isn’t a clarion call to arms over our political rights since I already know from how I reacted to those six simple words that such a call would go unheeded. It is merely a curious situation that made me reflect on how greatly America has changed in less than a decade. To think, there will no longer be generations who can share that wonderful moment of greeting someone just as they come through the gate or to enter baseball stadiums without being asked to remove their hats.

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One Comment
  1. Russo permalink

    This is a very sad commentary about the direction our society is headed, driven by apathy.

    I like your insight that the Ben Franklin quote isn’t even really relevant here. I think at this point pretty much everyone knows that security is just security theater.

    You know, there are people who view the concept of Privacy not just as a luxury but as a value, a sort of ethical principal. It’s not about hiding stuff, it’s not about shame, it’s not about embarassment. It’s just this notion that when one loses some privacy this is a form of an attack on one’s person. An insidious attack.

    I’m sympathetic to this view point. There are some wackos who take this belief too far. These are the same people who shoot at census takers. That’s bad. My question is, where have all the whackos gone when we need them?

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