My family loves tennis. Every year around this time we trek down to Flushing and brave the awful traffic, worse drivers, and crazy lines to witness greatness. This is our first year with a little one, our daughter turned one last week, and so today we made the journey with the car seat occupied to introduce our daughter to the game we love so much. We parked, readied our survival kit (also known as a diaper bag), and took that beautiful stroll across the boardwalk onto the perfectly manicured lawns of the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.
We didn’t even make it to the security line. A designated USTA worker with a walkie talkie style speaker informed us that we would not be allowed in with our diaper bag. Why? It was backpack style with two thick straps and an employee was once strangled with a strap, so they’re not allowed. No, not even if they only hold diapers and a bottle. Oh, and the Beco baby carrier I’m wearing my daughter in? I might have trouble with that, too. Those two pesky wide straps. When we asked what made that type of bag so much more ideal for strangling employees when compared to the thin-strapped backpacks they sell inside or the long strapped totes and purses most people were walking in with the employee seemed confused and didn’t have an answer.
Now, I have another baby bag, but given the size restrictions I recalled from last year’s visit we left it at home in favor of the smaller and easier managed backpack. And I have a stroller, in the car even, but chose to wear my baby because we wanted to check out the courts (where strollers were unable to access). After seriously considering just going home and boycotting the event in protest, we went back to the car and condensed our survival kit into a long strapped soft cooler and repeated the trek. We got to the security checkpoint and they opened our bag, and my wristlet and rifled through it, then eyed my baby carrier suspiciously, pointed out the straps and seeming unsure. Oh, how lucky they were they didn’t hold us up for that. Especially as ten feet in front of us we see a scantily clad woman breeze through with a backpack purse.
We requested a supervisor and were pointed in the direction of a nice, but ultimately unhelpful, man who changed the story. No, well, maybe it had something to do with an employee being strangled but it really goes back to 9/11. No backpacks because backpacks can carry more than other types of bags. Now. I’m no Tory Burch, but I’m pretty sure I can fit just as much, if not more, in a tote bag compared to the backpack. Or one of the bulky diaper bags we saw so many other young families dragging along. So, why the assault on backpacks? It would seem to me, in an exercise in common sense, the contents of the bag would matter more than the shape of the bag. Call me crazy, but this blacklisting of specific bags regardless of content seems asinine and unproductive.
A more complex consideration of the rule reveals another concern. While most adults can happily walk through events with nothing but what fits in their pockets, this is an impossible dream for anyone with children- especially small children. When packing all that is needed for a day away from home with a baby, it does not seem extreme to want to make carrying those items all day on foot as comfortable as possible (especially for daddies out there with bad backs!!). The unnecessary targeting of young families with such feckless rules might hint at an underlying desire to discourage those inconvenienced by said rule from attending such events. Considering that the day was Arthur Ashe Kids Day, we’ll give the USTA a pass on that and assume they weren’t intentionally dispiriting the crowd the day was targeting.
The supervisor we spoke with put the responsibility on the FBI for forcing them to initiate such procedures “because backpacks are more likely to be used to carry in things….like metal”. I might have had more respect for this sentiment if we hadn’t been made to step through the metal detector directly beside him a mere thirty seconds before, after our bags were searched, of course. And apparently, terrorists who target these events never bring their weapons in thick-strapped tote bags, purses, or those nylon thin stringed backpacks- they only use backpacks. I’m not sure if the FBI, assuming the spokesperson was pointing blame at the correct agency, thinks the general masses are that stupid or if they themselves lack the problem solving skills to consider alternatives to the potentially obvious solution of carrying forbidden items in a backpack style storage device, but either way the only people actually being thwarted with such ignominious rules are young families such as mine. And to bring the argument to my conclusion, in spoiling or discouraging us from attending these events with the next generation of Americans, the terrorists are winning the war in that they’ve managed to make us divert our attention from actual threats and attack ourselves.