Summer means warm weather, beaches and a generally more relaxed attitude as we reminisce about our school days of summer break and three months of vacation. As children, carefree running on the lawn, we only needed a set of sprinklers and a bike to make the day worthwhile. Now, as adults, summer is associated with good times, letting our hair down and kicking off our shoes — and alcohol is often part of the equation. But on the heels of the tragic car accident that took St. Louis Cardinal pitcher Josh Hancock’s life, Major League Baseball teams are rethinking alcohol in the clubhouse and it behooves us to rethink our own activity in the ballpark.
The clubhouse is where baseball players and coaches go to celebrate their wins and curse their losses after a game. It’s generally accepted you either have a celebratory drink or a pity drink. For Josh Hancock, it was allegedly too many pity drinks (the Redbirds lost that day) that led him to get in his car and get into that fatal accident. Teams that have banned alcohol in the clubhouse in response to the accident include the New York Yankees, Arizona Diamondbacks, Chicago Cubs and the Baltimore Orioles. Although the Diamondbacks maintain there had been talks on the issue for the past six months, it’s hard to deny the timely correlation. Not surprisingly, within five days of the accident, the Cardinals banned alcohol as well.
So baseball teams are attempting to protect their players, but unless any of us are major league ballplayers those moves probably won’t have any effect on our enjoyment of the game — unless knowing a player isn’t drunk behind a wheel makes the game more enjoyable. But we go to games, too, and because we’re not playing, that usually leaves more time to drink and heckle the players on the field. What are ballparks doing to protect us?
Some stadiums are taking an active role to ensure their fans’ safety when they leave the game. The Diamondbacks, Chicago White Sox, and Detroit Tigers partner up with TEAM Coalition (Techniques for Effective Alcohol Management) to educate fans about alcohol responsibility. Their newest campaign, Responsibility Has Its Rewards, offers incentives for those who participate in the program. For example, in 2005, one Diamondback fan who participated as a designated driver had the chance to win tickets to the All-Star Game.
Legally, stadiums have to conform to the rules of their state as well as any federal regulations. In other words, you can’t sell alcohol to minors. Most stadiums also recite a policy of refusal to serve visibly intoxicated customers. But many of us don’t know that this practice is backed up by state laws. In New York, for example, it’s illegal for a person to sell alcoholic beverages to someone visibly intoxicated — and this is reflected in Shea Stadium’s ballpark rules and regulations. As enumerated in the guidelines, intoxicated fans aren’t able to purchase alcoholic beverages.
Most official major league teams have Web sites that include ballpark guides where you can get information on everything from lost children to wheelchair access, and you’ll find alcohol at the top of the list. Some stadiums, such as Yankee Stadium and Dodger Stadium, employ a seventh inning cutoff on service of alcoholic beverages and also limit two beverages per customer per transaction. But this still concerns me; it doesn’t prevent the fan sitting next to me from going back every 20 minutes to buy two more beers. “Visibly intoxicated” is far beyond my comfort level as a cutoff for who gets another beer — and who can get behind the wheel of a car.
Other ballparks, like Fenway Park (home to the Boston Red Sox) cease selling alcohol two and a half hours into the game. But the average length of a baseball game is two hours and 45 minutes, which gives someone only 15 minutes to sober up and get behind the wheel of a car. There’s something wrong with that!
And did you know that by purchasing a ticket, you’re actually entering into a contract? If you flip your ticket over, you’ll often see paragraphs of very small, hard to read, writing. The writings include information on topics ranging from validity of the ticket to rain outs. But what we don’t usually look at is the tiny writing that has to do with waivers of liability. This is where the stadium says you, the fan and ticket holder, assume risks and dangers associated with the sport. Now, this would ordinarily mean if you get hit by a fly ball, you can’t sue, but it also includes acts before and after the game that are incidental to the game of baseball. And then the question becomes, is drunk driving a risk or danger associated with the sport?
Drinking and baseball is as all-American as apple pie, but if you’re reckless enough to get behind the wheel after a few too many beers at a game, drunk driving should certainly not be incidental to the game of baseball. After all, you or I could be on the road after the ninth inning with our kids in the back seat! I want the ballparks, and the law, to step up and do what it takes to stop these accidents before they happen.
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Lis Wiehl joined FOX News Channel as a legal analyst in October 2001. She is currently a professor of law at the New York Law School. Wiehl received her undergraduate degree from Barnard College in 1983 and received her Master of Arts in Literature from the University of Queensland in 1985. In addition, she earned her Juris Doctor from Harvard Law School in 1987. Lis is also the author of The 51% Minority — How Women Still Are Not Equal and What You Can Do About It. (Watch the Video) To read the rest of Lis's bio, click here.