This week the Minnesota Vikings return to the Metrodome in a pivotal NFC North match-up against the Chicago Bears that could have major implications on the division chase as well as the NFC Wildcard picture. But approaching this crucial rivalry game, the focus of the media this week has been bestowed upon comments made by Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway. In an article featured on the Minnesota StarTribune's website by Mark Craig Wednesday, Greenway, referring to the fans at the Dome Sunday, was quoted saying;
"Hopefully, they're super-duper drunk.... So drink liquor, not beer."
Greenway went on to say;
"Yeah, I would say morning drinking, why not? You could pull an all-nighter. Then you'd have the drunk, tired guys who will really be obnoxious."
Needless to say in this day of hyper sensitivity in the media, it didn't take long for reporters to jump at the chance to condemn Greenway's statement instead of truly analyzing the reality of the situation. The article about the quotes on ESPN's website is titled "Chad Greenway Wants Fans Drunk". Other articles on the matter share similarly snide titles that put the pressure on Greenway to apologize for the comments and do the "song and dance" routine of telling the media he was taken out of context. However I believe these off-the-cuff comments should bring the attention to something the NFL has generally ignored during Roger Goodell'stenure as Commissioner. There is a growing problem with irresponsible alcohol consumption in NFL stadiums and all political correctness aside, Greenway's comments, coupled with other headlines this season, may have inadvertently restarted the discussion on the issue.
Being a 24-year-old college grad (and fan of the occasional adult beverage) who attends at least one NFL game a season, I can say firsthand that binge drinking and football games have dangerously started becoming a common pairing. With the average price of a beer at an NFL stadium coming in around $7.25, stadium goers have taken the liberty to make sure they have a nice "buzz" going before even setting foot in the stadium. Those discouraging beer prices however become a lot easier to swallow when ones inhibitions have already started disappearing before kickoff. There have been arguments that raising these prices on alcohol would slow down the amount of consumption by fans, but that strategy may fall mute, while at the same time punishing the wallets of responsible fans.
During the years when Paul Tagliabue was NFL Commissioner, the problems associated with alcohol consumption at games was combated by making it league-wide policy to stop the sale of alcohol at the end of the third quarter of games. However this again just led to fans consuming larger amounts leading up to this deadline, making for the possibility of an even more unruly fourth quarter. Not to mention the underlining message that if you need to drive after the game, this quarter of abstinence should help you to be less impaired. Right?
So what are the dangers of ignoring the Oktoberfest-like drinking culture growing in the NFL? Well the safety and comfort of other fans for one thing. In my many experiences being at sporting events I've come to the conclusion that there will inevitability be some sort of interaction with an obnoxious fan who has likely had one too many drinks. Whether it was witnessing a fist fight in a beer line at Pro Player Stadium as a child, or having a fan at the Georgia Dome berate me to continue wearing the replica helmet of my favorite team as they were facing an insurmountable deficit, I've had plenty of personal experiences on the matter. However lately there have been higher profile cases of people being fed up with the actions of inebriated fans.
A couple weeks ago it was reported that long time New York Jets fan Ed Anzalone, better known by his unofficial mascot name of "Fireman Ed", would be quitting his role at MetLife Stadium as the heart and soul of the famous "J-E-T-S, JETS JETS JETS" chant. When first hearing this news the common fan would most likely equate his exodus to the terrible product the Jets have managed to put on the field this year. However when reading into the situation, a very different picture can be painted. Anzalone sites exposure to unruly fans as being the main reason for his exit saying;
"Confrontations with other Jets fans have become more common, even though most Jets fans are fantastic". "Whether it's in the stands, the bathroom or the parking lot, these confrontations are happening on a consistent basis."
I don't think it'd be going out on a limb to suggest that alcohol was a major influence in most of these confrontations. If this kind of treatment is given to one of the most well respected fans in the game, one can only imagine the type of tensions between opposing fans when large amounts of alcohol are in play. Just venture over to Youtube and search "NFL Stadium fights" and you'll see plenty of evidence to back this suggestion.
What, if any, are the solutions to this alarming trend? Who knows. Perhaps society itself is to blame for the decline in civility to begin with. Or perhaps alcohol has worn out its welcome in NFL stadiums altogether if the league truly wants to have the fan's safety and comfort a top priority. Unfortunately I believe the revenue generated from deals with alcohol companies would ultimately rule out that option.
Until a viable solution to this problem is found, more and more fans will choose the comfort of their own homes to view games, and the NFL will continue to scratch its' head wondering why it's becoming harder and harder to fill stadiums. But until a solution is found I believe the Chad Greenway's of the world are not to blame, but rather should be thanked for starting up the discussion. His comments may have been irresponsible, but they were honest, and something tells me those fans are planning to be "super-duper drunk" regardless of what Greenway had to say.