JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
Ben Buerman (pronounced "Beer man," appropriately enough) hit the beer bong with the help of James Ramos, top, during tailgating festivities Friday at Aloha Stadium before the Hawaii-Boise State game. Some people are blaming alcohol for fueling acts of violence among fans at Warriors games. Hawaii won Friday's game 39-27.
‘No Aloha’ Stadium
Is banning alcohol at University of Hawaii football games the way to stop fan violence?
With great hype comes great scrutiny. In the past, the bad behavior of a few drunken fans at Aloha Stadium would not have received nearly as much attention as the Fresno State game fracas did. But thanks to Internet message boards, blogs and morning sports talk radio shows, the detailed blow-by-blow account by a visiting Fresno fan became national news.
The Fresno letter writer said University of Hawaii fans at the Nov. 10 game shoved older people around, threw full water bottles, shouted profanities and spit at them. Was he exaggerating? A bit, perhaps. Sadly though, many Hawaii fans can confirm these random acts of nastiness seem to be on the rise. But why? And what can be done about it?
My wife and I have been going to UH football games for 21 years. We've seen the good, the bad and the ugly side of Aloha Stadium crowds. Not surprisingly, most of the negative stuff involved alcohol. We have had beer spilled on us. We've endured foul language from drunks whose main concern was the point spread they were betting on. I have been challenged to fights by soused jerks after asking them to tone it down.
However, I don't believe stopping beer sales at the stadium is the solution. It could make matters worse, actually.
As a former drunk, I can tell you that a ban wouldn't deter hardcore drinkers. They would simply get blitzed in their cars or the parking lot before entering the stadium. Or they'd smuggle in flasks of hard liquor to spike their sodas. I also think that normally responsible adults and underage college students alike could wind up binge drinking in greater numbers prior to the game.
That's already happening at stadiums around the country where alcohol is no longer sold at college football games. The argument to prohibit drinking at many university stadiums is that it would cut down on underage drinking and prevent drunken driving accidents.
But there have been numerous articles and studies that say binge drinking has become a huge problem on college campuses. It doesn't take an MIT degree in rocket science to figure out why. Kids like to party. Always have and always will.
When I went to college in the late 1970s, the legal age was 18 in New Jersey. Remember the Vietnam argument the decade before? Old enough to go to war, old enough to drink. By 1988 though, every state had raised the age to 21 to avoid losing federal highway funds. Drunken driving deaths went down for awhile. But did it stop 18- to 20-year-olds from partying? Of course not.
The under-21 crowd is still drinking. They're just doing it more in unsupervised, uncontrolled settings. Chugging is cheered on. Speed is of the essence since you have to get your buzz on before you head out to the big game or a club that will card you. And I think that bingeing mentality is carrying over into later life for many young adults who never learned to drink in moderation.
Back when Dick Tomey and Bob Wagner were the head coaches for UH, the crowds were different. Older, a little more mature, lots of families because tickets were cheaper. They wore many shades of green and white shirts with "Rainbows" or "Let's Go Bows!" printed on them. The Astroturf grass was literally greener, too. Tailgate parties were pretty mellow. No super-sized pickup truck stereos blasting bass-heavy gangsta rap.
What's changed is the fan base and atmosphere. The old-timers are being replaced by a new breed of Warrior fan. For him, it's all about winning and talking smack. Even on the Internet message boards there's a hostile edge to their posts. Civility is for wusses. Even though the UH publicly asks fans to "Think Green," they wear black like their boys on the field. These are the guys who are spoiling for a fight -- and spoil it for the rest of us.
In 2005, the Aloha Stadium Authority voted down a proposal to ban alcohol at tailgate parties, which would have been virtually impossible to enforce. They did cut off beer sales inside the stadium after halftime that season. Last year, they went back to allowing sales until the end of the third quarter (including hawkers who come down the aisles). At present, fans can buy two beers at a time.
Unfortunately, it's the actions of the immature minority that make "nanny state" policies necessary. Rather than a total booze ban, here are my suggestions:
» Limit beer sales to one per person at a time on the concourse only. No more selling beers in the stadium aisles, where it's harder to spot the falling-down drunks.
» Cut off beer sales at the end of halftime. Period. That's the time to start patrolling the parking lots for drunks, too.
» Instruct ushers and stadium security to be proactive and listen to fans who point out intoxicated louts. At one game, a security guard suggested that my wife and I move seats, instead of removing the drunks who were creating problems in our section.
» Have more police inside the stadium, instead of standing around in clumps of three or four outside the parking lot, as they do by the Stadium Mall intersection.
» Beginning next season, create alcohol-free sections for season ticket buyers. Although the logistics are a hassle, the fans deserve that option. Especially for the price they're paying these days.
The onus, though, should not be entirely on stadium management or on UH officials, who have no direct control over Aloha Stadium policies. It's up to the "too silent" majority to notify security or the police before trouble erupts.
In the past, I might have suggested talking to inebriated fans and asking them in a good-natured way to cool it. But those days are gone, along with the Rainbow logo and the word "Aloha" that used to be painted on the field. This is Warrior Nation now.
Rich Figel is a screenwriter and recovering alcoholic who lives in Kailua. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org