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Archive for Friday, September 30, 2005

Commentary: Banning beer laudable, but laughable

September 30, 2005

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— The worst tragedy in Orlando sports history started with beer.

The ugliest melee in professional sports history started with beer.

Just about every case of stadium violence in American sports history started with beer.

And you know what? Nothing is going to change it. Not a police officer's tragic death. Not NBA players going after fans in the stands. Not anything. Beer is too culturally and financially entrenched in American sports to ever be outlawed. Beer and sports go together like Butch and Sundance. And, sometimes, the ending is just as deadly.

Alcohol's marriage to sports is once again a major issue after the shooting death of undercover police officer Mario Jenkins by another officer during a beer-soaked tailgating party at a Central Florida football game Saturday. Witnesses said the nightmarish chain of events started when Jenkins confronted a rowdy group of tailgaters, some of whom threw beer on him.

After the investigation is complete, we will learn of the many other factors and failures that contributed to this horrific accident, but we do know this for sure: Beer was involved. It always is.

There will be task forces formed to examine the issue. As always. In times like these, sports wrings its hands about the beer predicament. The rest of the time, sports puts out its hands to accept the beer payola.

Remember last year's massive brawl in the NBA? It ignited when a fan in Detroit threw a beer cup on Indiana Pacers player Ron Artest. The NBA responded with unprecedented disciplinary measures and suspended nine players for 140 games. You know what the NBA didn't do? It didn't ban beer from its arenas.

And guess what? Even though there's been a shooting death at a Central Florida football game, the Golden Knights will not ban beer from future tailgating parties. If they did, they wouldn't need a new on-campus stadium. There'd be so few fans, they could play their games at a rec-league softball park.

Banning beer from football games? A laudable goal - and a laughable one. You'd be better off trying to ban sunscreen from a surfing contest. Sports fans are going to drink - period. It's part of the lifestyle. Thus, the name "sports bar." Notice they're not called "sports malt shops."

For the most who drink responsibly, there's nothing like a beer or two to make the sporting experience more enjoyable for yourself. For the few who drink recklessly, there's nothing like a beer or 10 to ruin the sporting experience for everyone else. How many times have we been to a game and seen a guy so sloshed that he could be a senior senator from Massachusetts?

I've said it a million times: If sports really wanted to get rid of the boors, it would get rid of the beers. Of course, it will never happen. Beer is the gasoline of sports. Even though its mass consumption has caused countless disputes, it is the liquid that lubricates the economic engine.

The NCAA certainly receives its fair share of beer money, too. One watchdog group counted a total of 395 beer ads during the 2003 Final Four. Last year, beer companies spent $52 million selling suds on televised collegiate sporting events.

Sadly, a fatal accident occurred Saturday when an undercover police officer was part of an operation to crack down on underage drinking at football games. Tragedy born from hypocrisy.

The $52 million question:

How can colleges arrest their students for drinking beer at sporting events when they are using their student-athletes to peddle beer at sporting events?

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