Baseball brew

IT'S a ``brewsome'' tale, the marriage of beer and professional sports! Beer makes millions of dollars for the owners of professional teams, who allow it to be advertised and sold in their ballparks, stadiums, and arenas.

They also permit breweries to sponsor radio and TV broadcasts of their games, at astronomical prices. Worse yet, there are almost no restrictions on how many beers players may consume after a game in the clubhouse.

By the time hundreds of fans who drink heavily at games are ready to hit the road, they have become unsafe drivers, their consumption of alcohol well above the legal limit. Over the years managers, coaches, and front-office personnel have also had their problems with beer and wine.

In what was considered a major step by opponents of alcohol at the time, the San Diego Padres, the California Angels, and the Chicago White Sox banned beer from their clubhouses partway through the 1987 season.

Other pro teams, all of which admit to being aware of the problem, say they are looking for a solution. What's to look for? Alcohol is alcohol. Do fans buy tickets to watch a game or to drink? Some don't seem to know.

Players don't like to talk about alcohol, because if they don't drink beer and wine themselves, they have a hundred friends and many teammates who do. And you don't tell on your friends, even if it means saving their job or their marriage or their life! Whether or not they prefer to acknowledge this, most athletes are widely viewed as role models for young people. Often they make tremendous salesmen on television. This fact has not been lost on many major breweries.

Bubba Smith, a former defensive end for Michigan State and all-pro with the old Baltimore Colts, used to appear regularly in beer commercials. In 1985, he stopped. The moral implications of what he was doing had gotten to him.

Smith's change of heart was triggered during a visit to his alma mater in October of 1985, where he had been invited to serve as grand marshal of Michigan State's homecoming parade. As his car proceeded through the crowds, suddenly he didn't like what he was hearing. Instead of yelling traditional football fight songs, students on opposite sides of the street were yelling ``Tastes great!'' and ``Less filling!''

Once Bubba settled into his seat at the stadium, the beer slogans continued. Smith later mentioned how almost every student in the stands seemed to be drunk, and how he felt that somehow he had contributed to it. At that precise moment he decided that he was doing something he didn't want to do anymore.

When Smith told the brewery he had been representing that he no longer wanted to appear in its commercials, company officials reportedly took it to mean that he wanted more money. But that wasn't it at all. He simply wanted to take a giant knot out of his conscience.

There was also the time when Smith went to Florida during the spring college break to represent the beer company that employed him. He didn't like what he saw.

``It was scary to see how drunk some of these kids were,'' Bubba told reporters. ``It was tough seeing kids lying on the beach because they couldn't make it back to their room. It was also tough watching kids under the influence tear up a city.''

While all professional sports leagues that I know about have condemned the use of cocaine and similar drugs, it never seems to occur to them that beer is also part of that family. Yet the preferred drug of millions has put some sizable highway fatalities on the scoreboard, not to mention what it has done to families.

Players who make several ``foam calls'' a day can expect the worst. If this Bud is for you, so are the inherent dangers!

Phil Elderkin has been a sportswriter for the Monitor for many years.

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