I’m going to preface this story by saying that our experience this past weekend would be filed as a first-world problem, because at the end of it all, we were just there for a football game.
We spent our morning at mass, going to the Co-Op to outfit the kids for their first Longhorn football game, and then tailgating with the family.
When we got to the stadium, we rode the million escalators up to the nosebleed section. Belle made friends with several ushers who were stationed at each escalator entrance and Bean happily practiced his game day chants.
Once we got to the top, things turned. As we walked towards out seats, things got really bad. For some inexplicable reason, the small trickle of fans suddenly became a tight swarm of bodies.
As things got tighter, some fans got impatient and as they became impatient, the whole crowd got aggressive. So, the tight squeeze turned into a vice made of human bodies. Not a problem for me or my mother-in-law, and definitely not a problem for J.D. but as the crowd got more and more aggravated by the wait, it became a problem for the kids, especially Belle.
At one point people who were originally walking in accordance to common sense, walk on the right, decided that they could make everyone’s life easier by making their own path and forcing everyone to push and squeeze into everyone else.
For the first 10 minutes, Belle sat in her pouch, strapped to my body, while Texas and Notre Dame fans lost their minds.
There’s a baby in here! I yelled. J.D. yelled. Nearby fans yelled. People heard but nobody listened. A sea of people and not one person listened.
Everyone continued to push everyone else in all directions. Front. Back. Sides.
I turned sideways, bowed my arms, and made my body solid to block the flow of people pushing to make their own way behind me. My mother-in-law did the same to make a little human cage to protect Belle, and J.D. held Bean on his shoulders and tried to protect us from the mob behind us.
While this was all happening, a fan thought it was a good idea to demand that a beer vendor, who was also stuck on the pool of bodies next to us, sell him not one, but two beers. She struggled to check his ID, hand him the beers and give him change. As she was picking up her bin, she caught Belle’s foot in the cold bin and as I was failing to get her attention to stop her from wrenching Belle’s leg, someone finally processed what was happening and his empathy clicked.
One fan saw the distress in my face, saw Belle trying hard to keep from completely losing it, and he decided to help. He used his body and his voice to advocate for us. He begged people to make room, pleaded with the souvenir vendors to pull back their stands, he yelled for people help — to give us a sliver of space, be aware that a baby was in the mix, to stop pushing.
And despite his efforts nobody listened.
During the shuffle, someone unknowingly dropped their phone and a person next to them felt it hit feet and he yelled out, “Someone dropped their phone between my feet!” The crowd immediately scooted so that the person could retrieve their phone and then promptly swelled closed again around us and the kids. They moved for a phone but continued to push and herd us into space that didn’t exist.
We managed to take Belle out of her pouch and hand her off to J.D. who could get her a little bit more air in his arms, but it continued.
It continued until J.D., who was now holding both babies, was pushed again from behind and both he and the man, who was now forcefully blocking the crowed for us, lost it and yelled for everyone to stop. Just stop.
And in that moment, the mob finally snapped out of it. People stopped pushing and a couple people, fans from both sides, helped part the sea of people with their bodies, some meeting with resistance, but after almost 20 minutes, we finally got out.
We gathered ourselves together and checked the kids for wear and tear. We tried to figure out what we could have done differently. What mistake did we make? How should we have protected the kids better?
We traded stories.
J.D. told me about a Notre Dame fan next to him who briefly passed out due to a combination of alcohol and heat created by the throngs of people. A group of Texas fans saw that she needed help, but instead taunted her with jeers of, “Notre Dame sucks!”
I told him about a girl who was sobbing as her boyfriend used her as a battering ram to push their group upstream, while screaming at her to just keep moving and to stop crying.
Has this behavior become acceptable?
It’s sad that Bean has now seen and recognized that people will be mean and rough just to get to their seat before kickoff. He has seen that mobs of people will not render help, will not speak up, will not always do the right thing, until there is a catalyst.
But he has now also seen that one person can make a difference, and that one man can make things better.
But what caused the problem? I’m not completely sure what changed or what was unique about this game, but I do have some ideas about what exasperated the situation.
As a student, I remember only being allowed to enter through a few specific gates, according to our seat assignments. I’m not sure if this has been the policy for general admission, but it should be.
The souvenir vendors were not equipped at all to help us. You could tell that they had no training in any sort of emergency type situations. They couldn’t call for security, they couldn’t give the crowds directions, they were helpless, just like us.
But honestly, it wasn’t their responsibility to act as crowd control. We saw no event staff and no security from the time we walked off the last escalator until we finally spotted our section ushers — almost 20 minutes stuck in an aggressive mob and not one event staff or security staff showed up to help manage the crowd. With a record breaking attendance of 102,315 fans, you would expect that more stadium security would be set up as a a preventative measure, that there would be some sort of communication plan, that vendors would be instructed to not sell alcohol to an already volatile crowd.
And ultimately, it was all of our faults — the fans. All the people with the “me first” mentality. All the people who put a premium on a phone, a beer, a seat during kick-off, and not on their fellow human being. All the people who, instead of working together for a common purpose, created unnecessary chaos.
How do we fix that? How do we fix our community’s lack of empathy? How do we fix our priorities? How do we stop ourselves from giving into the mob mentality that seems to be bubbling over in so many situations?
I’m not sure, but that’s something we all have to work on because what starts here changes the world.
I will note that J.D. ran into an APD officer when he went to get a drink and a snack for Bean during the second half, and the officer said that he was completely unaware of any issues and that there was no alert that help was needed. He said it was definitely something that needed to be addressed and that a mob like that should not have happened.