The Super Bowl Could Spark a Riot

Law enforcement agencies—local, state, and federal—are preparing for the possibility of mayhem in the streets of Tampa and Kansas City following the final whistle of Super Bowl LV this Sunday evening. Here are some thoughts on keeping everyone safe in the event of a sports riot.

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This coming Sunday in Florida, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers—led by 43-year-old Tom Brady, who has already won six Super Bowls and four Super Bowl MVP Awards—will take on arguably the best athlete in the entire NFL in 25-year-old Patrick Mahomes and the reigning World Champion Kansas City Chiefs.

A lot of cops in this country have sworn off the NFL. I get it. That's "all good" if that's your preferred perspective on the sport. I respect that stance, as you stand fast while some overpaid athletes disrespect the flag and law enforcement. I totally get it. Any visitor to my modest little apartment would almost surely not accurately count the number of American Flags displayed here (hint: it's more than 20).

I will watch the Super Bowl as I've done for more than 30 years. There will be chips, salsa, queso, and delivery pizza. Despite the kneeling during the National Anthem, the off-the-field issues with some players, and the crazy changes in the enforcement of some of the rules by the officials) I will still watch.

I love the complexity of the players' and coaches' planning for game day, and the pure physical endurance of the hitting and the struggling to move the ball forward toward the end zone. It's poetic, in a sense, and representative of the daily struggles police officer endure every shift.

There are dozens and dozens of storylines in this game, but the one I want to focus on here in this space is the preparation for the security of those people in attendance in Raymond James Stadium on Sunday, and all around the cities of Tampa, Saint Petersburg, Orlando, Miami, and elsewhere.

As we've seen in too many instances, things can get pretty woolly on the streets and sidewalks following a team "winning it all."

For reasons that are difficult for me to comprehend, folks flood out on the streets, light cars on fire, overturn dumpsters, and break into retail stores. It's sickening to see from afar, but frightening to see up-close-and personal. Law enforcement personnel in Tampa and the surrounding areas may face those challenges. Here are some thoughts on preparing for large-scale riots following a sporting event.

Forward-Deployed Assets

I had the opportunity to speak with someone some time ago about how the San Francisco Police Department coordinated with the FBI, ATF, and other three-letter agencies in advance of the 2012 World Series San Francisco Giants versus Detroit Tigers to ensure safety and security in the ballpark. Not to put too fine a point on it, many measures were taken—there were police counter-snipers in the scoreboard.

I attended one of those games. I'm pretty good at having some situational awareness. I never had any clue there were guys with rifles up there beneath the flags and the giant outfield screen. Well played!

I haven't any doubt that this preparation has already been made in Tampa well before the two participating teams were determined last Sunday. But other police leaders in agencies across the country can take note of the level of preparation in the event that their city hosts a similar event down the road.

A History of Violence

Violence in the streets following a victory in a championship game (or series) is not new.

Eight LAPD officers were treated for injuries and 76 people were arrested during celebrations in downtown Los Angeles that turned to rioting following the Lakers' NBA championship in 2020.

Following the victory of the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LII, people took to the streets, overturning cars and lighting them afire.

Similar mayhem has happened in places like Vancouver (Stanley Cup 2011), Chicago (MLB World Series 2016), Detroit (1990 NBA Championship), and many others.

When my San Francisco Giants won their first World Series in 2010, I went down the block to the impromptu "celebration" to be part of that piece of history.

My Giants!

World Champions!

Sweet good-googly-moogly!

I had my Giants cheer flag in my hand. I whooped and hollered and hugged anyone who would hug me back.

It was joyous.

But when things started getting a little wonky, I beat feet, scampering back home to watch the post-game show on TV—not wanting any part of what might possibly devolve into violence.

I had the option to retreat to the safety of my living room. Credit to the folks in my neighborhood, because things remained peaceful, but in other neighborhoods not too far away, fires were ignited and violence occurred—and the cops who responded that night had no other option than to enter the fray, risking life and limb to preserve the peace. Those officers did a wonderful job, considering the possibility of the threat they faced that night.

Tampa PD and other agencies are surely now preparing for the worst—same with those LEOs in Kansas City.

I'm especially sending my best wishes to Tampa cops. This is the first time in the history of the NFL that a team will play in a Super Bowl in their home stadium. There will be people from all over the country to fly into the city to attend the game, but "the locals" will flood into the sports bars all around the region, and regardless of the final score, there is the very real possibility of unrest.

My prayers are with the men and women of the myriad police agencies in and around Tampa, as well as those in Kansas City. I pray for your safety and success in protecting your communities, and protecting yourselves from harm if things "get loud."

Recent history is instructive of how people can get weird following a sporting event—it's irrational and incomprehensible—but if past is prologue, police in America need to prepare for the next "sports riot."

Be well. Stay safe.

Oh, and BTW, I'm taking the Chiefs by six with a total combined score of 54+.

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