Fall, Football, Tailgating, and Playing Safe
- Published on August 01, 2012
The crunch of fall leaves, the feel of warm autumn air, the smell of the grill--the wailing sound of an ambulance. Indiana's new Lifeline Law may help save the lives of binge-drinkers, in particular, college students who fear asking for help when one of their friends drinks themselves insensible, or becomes injured. Tailgating is so popular that businesses exist to supply team-or-school branded tents, coolers, chairs and grills, or portable deep fat fryers, tarp clips, ice makers, and air-cooling equipment for use at sporting events. Cooking challenges are held on cable television websites and tailgate-themed magazines, and local newspapers print beverage and food recipes for game day.
Tailgating doesn't have to be about getting drunk while (not) watching a football game, it can be a safe and fun multi-generational family event with non-alcoholic beverages and healthy snacks and activities. Parents can model healthy behaviors at sporting events rather than engaging in Heavy Episodic Drinking (HED) or binge drinking (more than 5 drinks at a time for males and more than 4 drinks at a time for females). However, the ICSUS (Indiana College Substance Use Survey) found that Hoosier college students were more likely to have engaged in binge drinking (40.2%) in the two weeks before taking the survey than a national sample (37.0%). Penn State students surveyed for a tailgating study reported drinking an average of over 9 alcoholic beverages during a typical Friday and Saturday. Another study by the University of Florida found that 55% of their season ticket holders sampled did not drink at all on game day, but those who drank consumed more alcohol than when they partied or socialized at other events.
The Indiana Lifeline Law (SB 274) provides immunity for crimes of public intoxication, minor consumption, and minor transportation to persons who reveal themselves to law enforcement while seeking medical assistance for a person with an alcohol-related health emergency. This new law will allow the "friends" who would have formerly let their friend with alcohol poisoning "sleep it off" call for police assistance without concern about how much trouble they would be in for being drunk and under the legal drinking age themselves.
Indiana Excise Police increased their patrols this past year in Bloomington tailgating areas on game days and issuing more citations for underage consumption, false identification, open containers, and serving minors. During the 2011 homecoming game against Northwestern, the Excise Police issued citations to 57 people, including two people who were ticketed twice, and a 21 year old woman who had a blood alcohol level of .27 percent and was transported to the hospital.
Binge drinking at sporting events isn't limited to college football, as anyone who has viewed the infield at the Indianapolis 500 or the Kentucky Derby can attest, but college football culture and professional sports franchises encourage heavy episodic or binge drinking. Perhaps the sports-drinking connection is what gives rise to the term "pregaming" for "drinking before drinking." A study of fans leaving professional football and baseball games found that 40% of those tested had positive blood alcohol concentrations (BAC). Those under 35 had an eight times greater chance of having a BAC of over 0.08% (legally intoxicated), and those who had tailgated before the game had a 14% greater chance of having a BAC of over 0.08% upon leaving the event. A study of college football fans by the University of Toledo over a number of home games found that 90% of the students sampled had measurable alcohol and the average BAC was .061 with 20% being greater than or equal to 0.08% (legally intoxicated).
What to do instead of binge drinking while tailgating? Why, enjoy your family, friends and the game! The Higher Education Center for Alcohol, Drug Abuse, and Violence Prevention has suggestions for reducing high-risk drinking and negative consequences that may occur when tailgating, some of which are in effect at Indiana University:
- Provide alcohol-free game-day activities; co-sponsor with community businesses and organizations to attract families and diversify offerings; offer in usual tailgating locations.
- Encourage family attendance at events and promote a family-friendly atmosphere.
- Work with Alumni Affairs, other alumni organizations, and season ticket holders to address desire for "tradition and celebration" and involve them in the coordination of festivities that promote a healthy environment. This is particularly important at schools where sporting events attract a large audience of alumni and nonstudents.
- Communicate tailgating and stadium policies to students, alumni, and season ticket holders.
- Limit the hours of tailgating before and after sporting events.
- Prohibit tailgating during the game.
- Prohibit spectators from bringing alcohol into the stadium.
- Ban drinking games and materials that encourage high-risk alcohol consumption (e.g., beer pong, funnels, ice luges).
- Institute a "no re-entry" policy during events; this limits spectator access to alcohol.
- Prohibit alcohol use completely in stadiums and/or at tailgating events.
- Prohibit alcohol sales around and outside of the stadium.
- Increase campus safety and/or police presence in stadium and tailgating areas—before, during, and after events.