Protesters’ Stadium Stunt Raises Super Bowl Security Concerns
The game day stunt pulled by anti-pipeline protesters at last week’s Vikings -Bears game may not make the team’s highlight reel, but it’s become one of the most scrutinized plays of a lackluster season. Yet the fallout holds more implications for the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority and NFL than the Dakota Access pipeline that inspired the hooliganism.
The incident clearly poses security questions as Minnesota begins preparing for the biggest sporting event of the year that’s set to be played at U.S. Bank Stadium next February: Super Bowl 52.
Minneapolis police, stadium management company SMG and the NFL face pressure to answer the question: Who fumbled the ball in allowing two protesters to get a better bird’s eye view of the game dangling from the stadium rafters than Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority officials Ted Mondale and Michele Kelm-Helgen and friends get in their taxpayer-subsidized suites?
Surveillance footage of the suspects provided the media a play-by-play of the embarrassing incident, tracking their movements once inside.
SMG released three surveillance photos Tuesday showing climbers Sen Holiday and Karl Zimmermann Mayo entering the mobile express lane at the Legacy Gate and later walking through the north main concourse about an hour before they scaled the third-level truss behind one of the end zones.
Zimmermann Mayo was shown wearing a black, waist-length winter coat inside the stadium while Holiday had removed her coat and was wearing a T-shirt in the concourse photos.
“Our investigation shows these individuals properly entered the stadium as ticketed guests through our gates,” SMG marketing manager Lisa Niess said in a statement. “The individuals brought in nylon rope, a small number of carabiners and a lightweight banner concealed on their person underneath winter clothing.
“These items were distributed among the group of protesters upon entry. These facts are consistent with interviews law enforcement officials conducted with one protester, upon being taken into custody.
The alleged perpetrators made it through a metal detector without setting off any alarms, including a prohibition on bags larger than a foot by six inches in size. But something’s clearly amiss with the team and NFL’s security protocols that failed to prevent the duo from climbing the stadium’s catwalk.
“Screening procedures are designed to detect items that cause harm, including weapons and explosives,” Niess said. “They had nothing visible in their possession that violated U.S. Bank Stadium policies and had nothing that prevented them from clearing the security screening upon entry.”
Niess said Holiday and Zimmermann Mayo “gained unauthorized access to the ridge truss by scaling regulation standard physical barriers designed to prevent entry. We have taken immediate steps to implement design changes to prevent any future unauthorized access.”
“We expect to make additional changes, as we continue to evaluate protocols to strengthen security here, and share our findings with other stadiums across the country,” Niess said.
Three individuals were held and released in connection with the incident, but no charges have been filed, pending the results of the investigation. At a Tuesday press conference called outside the stadium, the protesters declined to give away the Xs and Os of a game plan executed it to perfection.
But the Vikings, NFL and Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority will be heavily scrutinized as they break down what happened and how to reassure fans and sponsors lining up for the Super Bowl, already one of the world’s most heavily secured sporting events.
“We are deeply concerned about Sunday’s incident,” the team said in a statement Tuesday. “The safety of our fans, players, coaches and game day staff is of the utmost importance. Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority, SMG and Monterrey Security officials are currently leading the investigation to understand how this occurred.”