Gordon Johnston didn't want to be frisked. So as the 60-year-old high school teacher approached the gates of Raymond James Stadium here for a Buccaneers football game last month, he lifted the team jersey he was wearing to show it wasn't necessary. He was concealing no bombs. It didn't work.
The guard patted him down anyway.
"I say it's humiliating," he said later of his aversion to the security measure.
Millions of fans attending National Football League games this season have undergone mandatory security frisks, and at FedEx Field the lines often back up to dozens of people. The tactic is one of the best ways to deter suicide bombs and other terrorist plots, league officials say, and most fans simply outstretch their arms and undergo it without objection.
But Johnston, a mild-mannered season ticket-holder from the nosebleed seats, has begun to raise a far-reaching ruckus. After suing the Tampa Sports Authority in October, Johnston won a court victory last week that at least temporarily halts the pat-downs at Raymond James Stadium, where the Washington Redskins are scheduled to play Sunday.
He said he dislikes being touched by "a total stranger" and believes that the potential terrorist threat has been wildly exaggerated. And with his initial court success, Johnston has become either a champion of civil liberties or a meddler whose challenge is, by restricting security measures, endangering the lives of his fellow fans.
"Hey, this is the United States of America," Johnston said. "If you allow this, then it goes to all the other sporting events, then it spreads to restaurants and malls and every place there's a group of people, then pretty soon what do we turn into?"
Possibly, he said, "a police state."
As police and private security forces at large public venues have struggled since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to ensure safety without unduly hassling patrons, the NFL dispute over pat-downs may be one of the most prominent. It shows how deeply and how far the disagreements over what is appropriate can run.
Johnston's court case is binding only at Tampa's stadium. But one of Johnston's attorneys, John Goldsmith, said he has received calls from people in seven or eight other NFL cities who are interested in challenging the procedure.
The local stadium authority and the NFL, which is not a party in the suit, have scoffed at Johnston's complaints, however.
Johnston is claiming "a constitutional right to put at risk tens of thousands of citizens of Hillsborough County because he prefers to watch NFL games live, in the stadium, rather than on television," Richard M. Zabak, an attorney for the sports authority that owns the stadium, wrote in court papers. "A terrorist attack at a stadium during an NFL game could kill or maim thousands."
Johnston's opponents say that because pro football games draw together so many people, are broadcast nationally and are of an "iconic nature," they are a natural target for terrorists.
"We are at war," said Milt Ahlerich, the NFL's vice president of security. "Terrorists want to kill large numbers of Americans. This is a proportional security measure that we are taking in the interests of the fans."
While NFL security officials had recommended the pat-downs in previous years, and at some stadiums, such as the Redskins', the searches had already been instituted, the league decided to make them mandatory after the London bombings in July. In Tampa, it costs $7,500 per game borne by taxpayers who subsidize the stadium authority.
None of the other major sports leagues has such a stringent rule for searching fans attending games. The pat-downs are now being conducted at all NFL stadiums, except for Tampa's and Chicago's, where the team is discussing the idea with the city park district that owns the field.
Johnston, who describes himself as a conservative Republican, said he sometimes wonders if he was the right person to challenge the policy, calling himself "sensitive" by nature. But alarmed about being patted down before the team's first home game this year, he contacted the American Civil Liberties Union and began his case.
"There are a few of my Christian conservative friends who say, 'You're with the ACLU?' " he said. "That has been called into question."
He teaches the Constitution to high school students here, and said he just couldn't bear to see it, in his view, trampled in a rush for anti-terrorist security.
The NFL policy calls for every ticket-holder to stand with arms extended to be patted from the waist up.
"What's to prevent . . . hands to accidentally go other wheres," he testified.
Asked whether he harbors any fears that by halting the searches he may be allowing a terrorist to get into the stadium, Johnston said in an interview: "Definitely not. To me, it would never be a target. I don't know why they think it would be."
Ahlerich would not discuss any specific threats the NFL stadiums may have received.
At Raymond James Stadium, there was one bomb threat phoned in a couple of years ago, but it was determined to be a prank.
"Do we have to wait until someone blows up one of our places until we can do the pat-downs?" Ahlerich asked. "That is the question."
Johnston said he had to file suit, despite being averse to controversy. But he said he realized most fans aren't willing to fight because "people don't want to give up going to Bucs games."