Fan death in Buffalo raises questions about ejection procedures

Two weeks ago, a fan who had been ejected from the game between the Dolphins and Bills later was found dead in a shallow creek.  And while the fan didn’t die on the stadium grounds, the tragedy raises important questions regarding the manner in which ejections are handled.

As explained by local NBC affiliate WGRZ.com, 26-year-old David Gerken, Jr. was ejected for disorderly conduct after leaving his seat to go to the rest room.

“Are they just taking their ticket and saying, ‘There’s the door get out‘?” Gerken’s mother said.  “Or is there some kind of responsibility either to the personnel at Ralph Wilson or the security firm to say . . . ‘Do you have anybody here with you?  And why don’t you wait over here and we’ll go tell your buddies that you’re with what’s going on’?”

The Bills explained their ejection procedures in an email to WGRZ.  “The individual is . . . escorted out of the stadium, unless it is determined by security personnel that the individual poses a danger to himself/herself,” the team said.  “Security personnel then may attempt to contact family or friends of the individual or seek medical assistance at the Emergency Medical Services (EMS) location at the stadium.  Depending upon the circumstances, the Designated Drivers Program of Buffalo or the Safe Way Home program may be utilized.  Naturally, the range of options varies depending on the level of cooperation of the individual.”

In this specific case, Gerken phoned his brother and explained he was being ejected.  They agreed to meet after the game at a bar near the stadium.We’re not second-guessing Gerken’s brother’s decision to stay put and not leave to meet his brother then and there.  But if the family plans to suggest that the Bills did something wrong by ejecting Gerken without ensuring that he’d be safe (the family declined to say whether legal action is being considered), his brother was there and his brother knew Gerken was being ejected.  While there may be reasons to revise the procedures that apply when a fan is kicked out of a game, this probably isn’t the ideal case to effect change.Still, every NFL stadium should use the tragedy as a vehicle for reviewing its own ejection procedures regarding the opportunity the removed fan has to alert the rest of his group, so that they can then adjust their plans in light of the fact that one of them will spend the rest of the game on the outside of the stadium.