Booze, The Ban And Tailgating

Bobby Curran
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Friday - October 07, 2005
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Tailgating at Aloha Stadium for University of Hawaii football games may soon be a sobering experience. The Stadium Authority has approved a recommendation by a special task force to take under advisement a ban on the consumption of alcoholic beverages in the parking lot before and after regular season collegiate sporting events at the stadium. While not yet a done deal - several state agencies, the governor and public hearings will all have a say before a ban comes to fruition - best guesses are 50-60 days before implementation would be possible, meaning only one or two regular season games would be affected.

A ban will be polarizing; unusually strong sentiments have been aroused on both sides. The argument most often espoused by the status quo advocates is that alcohol-related incidents are few in number and would be easily resolved by better enforcement. The no-alcohol group responds that the viewing experience has been seriously compromised by profane and unruly tipplers, and that no other pubic venues allow drinking except by special permit. And they are both right.

There is evidence that alcohol-related behavior has caused increasing levels of discomfort for many fans. Not only the sporadic violence, but a sense of intimidation has been the experience for many fans coupled with a feeling that authorities are reluctant to get involved until the blood is flowing. My wife and her group found their seats occupied by a surly bunch of revelers who said if they wanted their seats they’d have to take them by force. When they complained to a police officer, he looked around and said, “There’s plenty of empty seats. Can’t you sit somewhere else?” While that may have been an expedient solution, it’s not the way most fans want to attend games. Talk to almost any regular spectator and such stories abound. Clearly, something had to be done. Lt. Gov. Duke Aiona proposed a ban on alcohol inside the stadium as well as in the parking lots, but the current task force recommendation does not include a ban on in-stadium alcohol sales. Cynics say that this is an example of naked self-interest on the part of the Stadium Authority. They garner significant revenues from alcohol sales within the stadium; outside they get nothing. As a practical matter, though, it’s harder to get rip-roaring snockered on beer sold inside the facility just from a time standpoint. The two and a half hours of beer sales in the stadium (sales are cut off in the third quarter) don’t make it impossible for a drinker to get drunk, but far less likely than one who has an additional three hours of parking lot imbibing in the hot sun. The unfortunate reality is that most tailgaters drink responsibly and are not any problem at all. This will be another case where the vast majority of innocents will be sanctioned for the misdeeds of the guilty few.

Another issue will be enforcement in the parking lot. I’ve received numerous e-mails from transplants who tell me that at other universities where alcohol is officially banned at tail-gates, enforcement is selective. It is akin to the military’s policy of don’t ask, don’t tell. If you’re discreet, you are generally left alone. While that may again be practical, it is hardly the basis of sound policy. With 15,000 or so tailgating during an average home game, the enforcement dilemma will be acute. It isn’t as if the HPD does-n’t already have its hands full with parking and crowd control issues now. And you can already hear the shrill cries of “Unfair! Discrimination!” that will surely echo when the inevitable selective enforcement occurs. I don’t know what they pay the police officers who pull special duty at the stadium, but I do know this: Whatever it is, it won’t be enough.

A difficult problem, and nary an easy solution in sight.

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