The Star Tribune reports that when the Minnesota Vikings travel for away games, the team pays police about $300 for a special escort to the airport, where the players are whisked through the airport to their flights.
The procedure is common throughout the NFL, and law enforcement officials concede the practice runs the risk of offending travelers who might not think much of professional athletes getting what seems like special treatment, the newspaper reports.
It can be a touchy subject – some drivers didn't like that NBA star LeBron James recently noted that he got a police escort to a concert; and a number of Thanksgiving travelers were irked when they learned that they had been bumped from a flight to accommodate the men's University of Florida basketball team.
But the Star Tribune explains that Vikings players and equipment are pre-screened at their practice facility in Eden Prairie so they don't have to go through airport security checkpoints, which ultimately also helps other travelers by not gumming up the airport. The escort is necessary, the Vikings say, to assure that the security-screened buses are not compromised en route to the airport, according to Transportation Security Administration rules.
The State Patrol used to escort the Vikings buses, but Edina police recently took over the job. Edina Chief Jeff Long told the Star Tribune he had carefully considered the job because he didn't want to be accused of offering athletes special privileges. He noted that the escorts typically travel the speed limit and only sometimes use flashing lights.
“Personally, I’m not a huge Vikings fan,” Long told the Star Tribune. “I’m not awe-struck by any of these people.”
Edina Patch notes that Long explained the job a bit more in a blog posting: "I am aware that anytime a sports team is seen in a caravan, that it may be perceived as 'special treatment.' In this case, it is not special treatment. Our department is reimbursed for more than 100 percent of our costs incurred by assisting the Vikings with TSA guidelines. Our job is not about player security, it is about aviation safety."
WTHR reported in 2011 that Indianapolis was one of just two cities that did not charge NFL teams for escorts, including escorts from the airport to the hotel and then to the stadium downtown. Police escorts for the San Francisco 49ers in 2010 raised eyebrows, local ABC affiliate KGO reported.