Beer, Boorishness in Stands Spoil Games for Some Fans

Chris Mitchell, center, and Jason Lynch have a couple of cold ones while tailgating with Gina Manke, left, and Kristin Bromberg.
Chris Mitchell, center, and Jason Lynch have a couple of cold ones while tailgating with Gina Manke, left, and Kristin Bromberg. "It's the greatest day of the week," Manke says of Redskins game days. (By Ricky Carioti -- The Washington Post)

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By Joe Holley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 21, 2005

Up in one of the nosebleed sections at FedEx Field yesterday, a man watched the game wearing a sweat shirt reading: "[Expletive] the Refs." With him was a little boy, maybe 5.

A few rows in front of them, two guys in Washington Redskins jerseys greeted every referee call against the team by shooting their arms into the air, middle fingers extended.

One man was so wobbly by the second quarter that he toppled forward two rows, spilling beer on Leslie Weightman of Gaithersburg and digging his knee into the back of her husband, Jim. And leather-lung louts screamed obscenities against the Oakland Raiders until their voices were almost shot.

A scuffle broke out a couple of sections over. Prince George's County police and yellow-jacketed stadium security personnel, a dozen or so in all, had to climb to the top rows of the stadium to separate two clashing groups of fans -- men and women, Raiders fans and Redskins fans. They ejected four.

At least there was no knockdown, drag-out fight as there was at the game against the San Francisco 49ers a few weeks ago, when a half-dozen fans slugged it out, bodies flailing and falling like dominoes. It took police 10 minutes to come to the aid of an overwhelmed usher.

At FedEx Field and football stadiums throughout the National Football League, some fans are disgusted with the obnoxious behavior in the stands, particularly by alcohol-fueled spectators. It has become so bad that some are turning to television as a safer, less harrowing way to watch the game.

Beth Gourley, a 45-year-old Vienna resident, has held Redskins season tickets since 1963, but two years ago, she and her mother stopped going to games.

"People are hammered, the language is horrible and the ushers can't seem to do anything about it," Gourley said. "We're not beer drinkers -- we come to watch the game -- but the stadium caters to beer drinkers."

Certainly the rowdies and the boors are a fraction of the thousands of fans at FedEx Field -- a small city's worth -- and elsewhere, but they're enough to have changed the spectating culture into something resembling a World Wrestling Entertainment event. Bob Warren, a Redskins season ticket holder since the 1960s, has sold four of his six season passes. He says he has noticed a worsening in the past five years or so. "It's not the same friendly atmosphere it used to be," the 55-year-old Fairfax optometrist said. "The rowdiness and the language is definitely different."

Many disgruntled fans blame what Laurie Lieber of the California-based Marin Institute calls "an alcohol-saturated society" that seems synonymous with big-time sports these days.

"People have come to expect and accept the blanketing of alcohol promotion around sports," said Lieber, whose nonprofit public advocacy group considers alcohol abuse a public-health issue. She cited the increased signage at NFL stadiums, the ubiquitous TV commercials for beer and the bars and restaurants built into stadiums.

Lieber also noted the increase in tailgating. The practice has been around for years, but its popularity has skyrocketed in the past decade or so. Although teams encourage tailgating for the camaraderie and team spirit it promotes, it also makes drinking a day-long event. As Prince George's police Lt. Terence Sheppard said, "The longer people have to drink and socialize, the more problems we anticipate."


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