On Saturday, January 14, 2012, an officer of the Springfield College Police Department threatened to jail two ticket-holding patrons at the Hoop Hall Classic—an annual high school basketball showcase hosted by the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame—for taking pictures from the stands and for suspicion of asking players for autographs. Here is my story.
Shortly after the buzzer sounded on the St. Patrick’s/LaVerne Lutheran game, Officer X (as I will refer to him) intercepted my friend and me as we left the snack bar area inside Springfield College’s Blake Arena, the setting for the weekend-long tournament.
“I know why you’re here and if I see either of you asking for autographs or taking pictures with players you’re going to spend the weekend in jail and you’re not getting out until at least Tuesday. I suggest you [buy a ticket and] go get your hands stamped and take a seat.”
We showed him our previously-stamped hands and assured him he wouldn’t see us do those things. Returning to the court, we scouted a place to sit for the next game. Another police officer stood next to us and over his radio we heard Officer X’s voice:
“We’ve identified the autograph hounds. Bring me two trespass notices to have on hand.”
I turned to the officer. “He’s talking about us,” I said, gesturing to myself and my friend. “Have you ever heard of a law against asking for autographs?”
“That’s a new one to me,” he said with a smirk.
At the next whistle we found seats about four rows up at center court for the 4pm game, which pitted Gonzaga College High School against Riverside Academy. Throughout the game I took out my camera to snap shots of the action. I have become interested in photography recently and taking my own pictures of players to get signed later has been a way for me to marry the two hobbies.
The event had been running ahead of schedule and the teams set to square off at 6pm—Oak Hill Academy and Prestonwood Christian Academy—took the floor to warm-up twenty minutes before the tip. To pass the time, I took out my camera again and photographed the shootaround.
Five minutes into the game Officer X appeared at the base of the stands with the officer we were standing with earlier.
“You two! Come with me—you’re out of here!”
Everyone sitting around us turned to see the offenders, shock on their faces. Shock on ours. Needless to say, we had no idea why we were being taken away by the police.
Officer X escorted us to the exit, stopping just before the door. “I told you if I saw you taking pictures you were going to jail.”
I asked him why our cameras were allowed in the venue when our bags were searched by security personnel at the entrance. Furthermore, we had not asked a single player to take a picture with us. We were taking pictures of the action, along with hundreds of other ticket-holding fans at the Classic.
“Do you have a kid on the team? Then it’s unauthorized photography.” He pointed to a sign posted by the arena’s exit.
Also listed as a prohibited activity: Cell phone use beyond the lobby. I’m not making this up. I pointed out to Officer X that there were not just hundreds of other amateur photographers in the stands but cell phone users who all kept their seats.
“We can police this campus any way we want. Keep running your mouth and you’re getting locked up until Tuesday. Bail will be set at $5,000. Give me your licenses.”
I wasn’t aware police officers were empowered to set bail.
A member of the Springfield College security staff appeared, “You guys are taking pictures for profit. We’ve had issues with you guys for years.”
I told him his speculation was ridiculous and we were absolutely not profiting off our photography, pointing out my friend was using a point-and-shoot camera—not exactly the tool of choice for Getty Images. (I was using a Nikon D5000 which my wife bought me as a wedding present two years ago—not a professional setup.) But he was half-right about one thing, we had been attending the Hoop Hall Classic for several years and this wasn’t our first encounter with Officer X. A brief history:
Michael Beasley was the Classic’s star attraction, then a senior at Notre Dame Prep. My first year at the event, autographs seemed to be permitted as players signed hundreds of autographs for fans in every corner of the arena and lobby.
Another autograph-friendly year, Brandon Jennings was one of the most-hyped players at the event (the Hoop Hall Classic website specifically highlights “Featured Players” on their website) and was one of many players signing and taking pictures with fans all weekend.
The event again featured future NBA draftees, including DeMarcus Cousins, Derrick Favors, Xavier Henry and Lance Stephenson. We got autographs and pictures with these players in plain view of every police officer and security official at Blake Arena.
We met Officer X this year. When attempting to graph Jared Sullinger after a game he told us not to ask players for autographs in the building. He told us he knew we were selling them. If you’ve read Autograph University you know I don’t sell autographs. After he spoke with us we only graphed outside when players were boarding the bus.
Officer X found us early and threatened to arrest us “for solicitation” if he saw us asking players for autographs. We asked him to explain his concern (and to define “solicitation” in this context), noting that players have the right to refuse to sign. He replied that a parent had complained about autograph seekers and that the players were minors and couldn’t make their own decision about signing. We asked his permission to approach players who were over 18 years old. He agreed (!) and we looked players’ ages up before making requests, sometimes right in front of Officer X.
Officer X took our licenses, asked for our Social Security numbers, and completed a Notice of Trespass for each of us which we signed. I asked his name which he gave me (he was not in uniform and did not have a name tag). I asked him to spell his name and he refused. He explained that we were banned from the campus of Springfield College for three years, until January 14, 2015. If we violated the order we would be arrested immediately. I told him we’d see him then.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this experience and your stories of encounters with police/security during your autograph adventures.