For weeks, as controversy raged over the use of facial recognition technology to bar opposing lawyers from Madison Square Garden, James Dolan, whose family owns the arena, remained silent except for cautious statements made by spokespersons.
That silence ended on Thursday morning (26th), when he appeared on a morning talk show and lived up to his reputation as the Garden’s impulsive master.
He cited the Bill of Rights and said that as an owner he had every right to keep opposing lawyers out of the stadium. He accused elected officials of “getting on the bandwagon” against his ban rather than addressing more pressing issues such as crime and bail reform. He even threatened to ban beer at a New York Rangers game.
So Dolan trolled an obscure government official—Sharif Kabir, CEO of the New York State Liquor Agency, which is investigating the Garden—holding up a flyer with Kabir’s picture and contact information so thirsty fans could “tell him to keep knitting”.
After all, Dolan, owner of the New York Knicks (basketball team) and Rangers (ice hockey), didn’t exactly seem intimidated by the storm created by his ban.
“Not at all,” said Dolan, who is CEO of MSG Entertainment.
A billionaire who ran his empire in an autocratic tone, Dolan publicly feuded with Knicks fans and former players at the Garden and on several occasions threatened patrons with a lifetime ban from the arena. But only last month did it become public that the venue was using cameras at its entrances to help bar lawyers working for companies filing civil lawsuits against Dolan’s properties.
Madison Square Garden has used facial recognition since 2018, but Dolan’s unusual use against his enemies has caused growing controversy and pitted him against thousands of lawyers. Some have gone to court to obtain injunctions to force their way into events at the Garden, setting up new court battles with Dolan. Others filed complaints with government agencies.
The local rivalry has become part of a national debate about the specter of widespread private surveillance. While facial recognition technology is legal in New York, its use by the Garden has sparked protests from civil liberties advocates.
Elected officials have held press conferences and proposed laws banning the policy of exclusion.
But it was the State Liquor Agency investigation that provoked one of the most combative reactions in Dolan’s stormy 17-minute interview on the morning show “Good Day New York” on FOX 5. Dolan challenged the agency to “take away my license to sell alcoholic beverages”, adding: “People will still come to the games”.
“They’re being extremely aggressive and they’re saying, ‘We’re going to take away your liquor license,’ so I have a little surprise for them,” he said.
“Let’s pick one night, maybe a Rangers game, and ban all alcohol in the building,” he added, then show Kabir the flyer.
A Beverage Agency spokesman, Joshua Heller, said Wednesday that the Garden, as a licensed business to sell beverages to the public, must remain open to the public. He said the agency notified Garden management in November of a complaint accusing them of violating the terms of their license under state liquor laws by restricting entry to certain members of the public.
A group of state legislators representing Manhattan introduced a bill that would close a legal loophole to prohibit Dolan from continuing to bar certain customers.
Tony Simone, a Democrat representing West New York and one of the bill’s sponsors, said he himself ran afoul of Dolan’s exclusionary practices this month.
Simone, the first openly gay official to hold a seat in the assembly, said he was abruptly disinvited from a Rangers game shortly after a press release was circulated listing him among other local elected officials who are against Dolan’s policy.
In an interview on Thursday, Simone said she was told by a Garden official that “it would be strange at this time” for him to attend the game, where a gay pride event was being organized by the advocacy group Hockey para Todos.
“I think hockey is for everyone unless you say something Jim Dolan doesn’t agree with,” he said.
New York Attorney General Letitia James and Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg say they are investigating whether the entry policies violate the law.
MSG Entertainment officials said surveillance continues to be used primarily to identify people who may threaten security and that the watch list includes customers who have violated rules — such as being violent, throwing things or misbehaving.
Dolan family companies have also been the target of frequent lawsuits – from personal injury to loss of season tickets and shareholder complaints about deals – and company directors say the ban is intended to prevent opposition lawyers from gathering evidence. .
During the Thursday morning interview, Dolan cited his constitutional rights as a landlord to protect the Garden, likening his situation to that of a bakery or restaurant.
“For whatever reason, if there’s someone you don’t want to serve, you can say, ‘I don’t want to serve them,'” he said.
It was a rare interview by Dolan, and it ended with a question about his blues band.
Finally he smiled. He said he was involved with an exciting music project, “but it’s sucking up all my time”.
Translated by Luiz Roberto M. Gonçalves
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