What the NFL’s Alcohol Policy Should Be

This season, commissioner Roger Goodell has taken a proactive stance in attempting to curtail unruly drunken behavior at NFL games. As Michael McCarthy (I thought coaching the Packers would pay enough but apparently in this economy you need two jobs to support your family) reported in the USA Today, the NFL is encouraging teams to limit tailgating to 3.5 hours before kickoff (only two teams have complied with this recommendation so far), restrict alcohol servings to two drinks per customer per transaction and sizes to 20 oz. per beer, 6 oz per wine, and 1.5 oz of hard alcohol, and set up a text message service that allows fans to anonymously report obnoxious drunks from the comfort of their seats.

All three of these suggested changes, while strong in theory, have potential pitfalls.  The tailgating restriction unfairly punishes fans whose best eight days a year involve day-long excursions to grill, watch football, and consume alcohol responsibly.  3.5 hours seems like a reasonable boundary at first, but it definitely impinges on the enjoyment of innocent actors.  While even the worst offenders of the current framework consider themselves to be these innocent actors, the NFL should tread lightly with this policy and avoid alienating its core customers by imposing a unilateral restriction.

The restrictions on serving size and quantity are easy to get around for people who attend games with the intention of becoming blackout drunk.  Vendors come up and down the aisle with regularity and it is really not very difficult for alcoholics to miss a lot of the game traversing back and forth between the concession stands and their seats, gathering up as much alcohol as possible.  If anything, this rule once again more adversely affects innocent actors who now must travel in groups of two to pick up a round of beers for their four friends.

The best-intentioned, but most fatally flawed, solution of the three proposals is the text message hotline.  Despite being sound in theory, the reality is that cell phone reception is annoyingly jammed inside football stadiums as 60,000-80,000 people are densely populated and using their cell phones at the same time (as much as I wish this weren’t the case and hate to admit it, it causes a high amount of pain and suffering for me when my blackberry stops working at football games).  The texting hotline is not enough of a mechanism in and of itself for families to prevent their kids from being exposed to offensive, drunken behavior.

Although personal liberty and the free market should generally be allowed to triumph, when innocent others are exposed to conduct that is unreasonably detrimental to their viewing experience, their natural “freedom from” right is violated.  Unfortunately, this is currently the case at NFL games.  The excessive alcohol consumption before and during these contests poses a prodigious problem for families fathers who are trying to impart their love of football on their children sons.  There are an inordinately large amount of drunks who, in their rude and obnoxious behavior, serve as negative externalities for other fans at the games.  It is to the NFL’s credit that they are trying to stop this but if they were actually serious about it they would enact a policy that truly inhibited these people from becoming drunk beyond recognition.

If the NFL truly wants to curb this behavior, it will enact a policy that requires fans to submit to a breathalyzer test before ordering alcohol and not serve those who violate a decided-upon blood/alcohol level.  This blood/alcohol limit would be higher than what makes one legally able to drive but at a point such that if a person has already reached a level of high intoxication he/she is forbidden from buying more.  Yes, there would be loopholes such that these fans could commission others to procure alcohol for them, and yes, many people who do not cause problems when their blood/alcohol level is above .20.  However, setting a measurable level of what constitutes being unacceptably drunk at a football game is a utilitarian solution that benefits the most fans the most.

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