Sneaking alcohol into stadium a problem

By By Alicia Williams

By Alicia Williams

While the Utes battled TCU on the field Thursday night in one of the biggest games of the season, fans in the stands were cashing in on the opportunity to get plastered. As a season ticket holder, I’ve seen a few tipsy tailgaters, but this was the first game I witnessed several fans openly drinking from smuggled beer cans.

Alcohol can be found at the root of some violent fan behavior, which often leads to injuries at sporting events. Anger and joy certainly play a part in the equation, but when alcohol is added to intense emotions, it becomes much more difficult to repress the urge to act out.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell created and enacted the “Fan Code of Conduct” in July 2008 after attending a game incognito with his 13-year-old niece. Violating the six-point guideline concerning disruptive and drunken behavior can result in an immediate ejection and loss of future ticket purchasing privileges. The NBA has shared a similar code of conduct since a 2005 Pacers vs. Pistons game in which Ron Artest and a few other players piled into the stands and pummeled fans who threw a drink during a brawl.

There is an overwhelming number of examples of drunken fans’ disorderly conduct: A drunk fan’s attempted tackle of an umpire on the field during a Chicago White Sox game in April 2003; the father and son drunken duet who assaulted the Kansas City Royals’ first base coach in September 2002; and the three drunk San Diego Charger fans who beat a rival team’s fan unconscious in October 2004.

Don’t forget the occasional drunk streaker dashing across fields of every sport8212;including Wimbledon in 2006 and New Zealand rugby in 2005. You have to admit8212;rational thinking seems to go out the window when you’re drunk.

Dave Wakefield, guest services manager for Stadium and Arena Events Services, said the desire to reduce alcohol-related medical injures was the main incentive for increasing the consequences of sneaking alcohol into Rice-Eccles Stadium for the 2005-2006 season.

Now, if a fan gets caught at the gate with alcohol, security confiscates the items. If you’re caught inside the stadium, you get escorted out and asked to leave the premises. Although it’s an improvement, it’s still not much of a deterrent and can also put intoxicated people behind the wheel.

The U allows tailgating parties in the parking lot so fans can get their buzz prior to the game starting. Besides promoting binge drinking, it also encourages patrons to sneak in alcohol to keep the buzz going.

The National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines binge drinking, in September 2008’s Research Findings on College Drinking and the Minimum Legal Drinking Age, as males drinking five or more and females drinking four or more drinks within two hours, bringing blood alcohol concentration to .08 or higher. Their research shows 83 percent of college students drink and 41 percent binge drink. The research also shows an estimated 1,700 college students die each year from alcohol-related injuries.

Wakefield said even though security conducts bag searches at the gate, they know alcohol is getting inside the stadium. With 45,000 fans and only 250 security guards, they can’t watch everyone and instead rely on guests to keep an eye on each other. The new U Fan Zone allows guests to anonymously text in problems such as injuries, annoying fans or drinking issues happening in the stadium.

“Last (Thursday) night was by far the worse we have had this year with the number of alcohol calls,” Wakefield said. “I know it was absolutely crazy. We had 47 calls…normally our high before last night was 21, so more than double of our worst game that we’ve had.”

Instead of just ejecting drunk and unruly fans, maybe the U should consider creating an on-site jail similar to the one in Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia, called the Eagles Court. It has an actual courtroom and jail cell where drunken, volatile fans can be held until they are sober enough to drive. They also get a ticket to serve as a reminder of what not to do the next time they visit the stadium.

Drunken fans need to remember these games are family events that include children. You’re not hanging at a frat party or kicking it at the local bar; it’s a public place that prohibits alcohol. The purpose of attending is to enjoy watching the game. If you need to be mind-numbingly drunk, so much that you have to sneak in more alcohol, do so at parties or bars rather than in the stadium.

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