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The Columbus Gestapo

Written by Paul Zeise on .

 Do you want to read a sad tale about the state of America post 9-11?

Here’s one that happened to me Saturday afternoon in Columbus, Ohio. I went to Ohio State to do some reporting for a story about Jeannette’s Terrelle Pryor, the true freshman quarterback who has earned the starting job for the Buckeyes. Instead of just watching the game and going to the locker room for interviews after the game, I decided to take in the atmosphere before the game and get some color for the story.

 

So I walked outside the stadium to see what was going on. One of the ushers said I should go see the team walk across campus and into the stadium. It was some sort of tradition, she said. I thought it was a decent idea and had time to kill. Plus, I could see how Pryor was being received by Ohio State fans.

 

She gives me directions to where they walk into the stadium, but I don’t know where I’m going, so I ask a state trooper about it as I’m walking. He directs me to the other side of the stadium. After asking two or three other stadium workers on the way exactly where it is (everyone seemed to disagree on the location), I stumble upon stadium security roping off a walkway.

 

I stood behind the ropes and waited for the team to come past. As I stood there, a state trooper came up beside me, asked me to take my hands out of my pockets and step out of the line. When I turned around there were six state troopers and a Columbus detective in plain clothes surrounding me. The detective asked me why I was there, so I pulled my press credential out of my pocket and told him I was there to cover the game. He then asked me for my identification, so I pulled out my driver’s license.

 

I held the license in my hand for the trooper to see, but he took it from my hand and began to write down my information. Apparently, it wasn’t enough to make sure my identification matched the name on the credential. For some reason, they wanted the information on my license, which was completely unnecessary.  So I began to ask questions.

 

I asked the detective if I was pulled out of line because I looked Arab. (I am of Italian, Greek and Irish descent, but as I’ve come to learn from airport security lines over the years, I am racially profiled more than others.) He said that was not the case. He said it was “because of 9-11, national security stuff.” He said I was asking questions about where the players enter the stadium. I was not dressed like everyone else and I was alone.

 

What?

 

Not being dressed like everyone else meant I was not wearing a replica jersey and shorts, what most fans were wearing on this summer-like afternoon. I was in a golf shirt and dress slacks because, you know, I wanted to appear professional. The fact that I was alone…what did that mean? I was a terrorist because I was at a football game by myself?

 

And what in the world did they think I had in my pockets? (If they had physically searched me – which I swear was coming next – they would have found I was packing…a tape recorder and pen).

 

So be careful if you plan on passing through Columbus on a Saturday afternoon this fall. You must have at least one travel companion. You must wear a game jersey. And more than anything else, you mustn’t ask any questions about the team’s route to the stadium. Otherwise, the Columbus Gestapo will come and get you.

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