NFL Spectators Being Watched More Closely
Sunday, September 7, 2008
The parking lots surrounding FedEx Field were filled with fans sitting on folding chairs and lounging under tents they had put up near their vehicles. They tossed footballs and tailgated for hours before the Washington Redskins' first home preseason game last month. Food was being grilled and alcohol was being consumed, in some cases lots of it.
A couple of hours before kickoff against the Buffalo Bills, a man riding on the back of a cart that was encircling the stadium let out a yell and raised a cup and a half-full liquor bottle. Two men walking on the adjacent sidewalk witnessed the scene, and one turned to the other and said, "The game hasn't even started yet and they're already drunk."
Moments earlier, a family had made its way toward a gate, with Shawn Money carrying one of his three children atop his shoulders while the two others walked ahead of him and his wife, Deborah. The parents wondered if they were doing the right thing by bringing the kids -- ages 8, 7 and almost 2 -- to a game.
"It always gets worse after halftime," Deborah said. "Everyone is good in the beginning, and then the beers add up."
The National Football League, with annual revenue approaching $8 billion, has become the most popular professional sports league in the country in part because of the zealousness of its young-adult male fans, many of whom spend hours before games tailgating and drinking before going inside stadiums to be loud and boisterous. This season, however, the NFL is asking itself whether the rowdiness has gone too far and is alienating other fans.
At the behest of Commissioner Roger Goodell, all 32 teams have announced a fan conduct policy in an attempt to make their stadiums more fan-friendly. Goodell said he believes fans should be able to watch without being subjected to abusive language, obscene gestures and other forms of rude behavior.
"We look at the issue of our in-stadium experience as something that is critically important," Goodell said. "We think that the experience can be improved. We are going to be working with our clubs to improve that. We want everyone to be able to come to our stadiums and behave properly."
The Money family and others are waiting to see how successful the new policy will be, knowing that the real test comes now that the regular season is underway.
"It's my first year bringing the kids," Shawn Money said. "I've come with my buddies and you always wondered if you could bring the kids. I was just saying to my wife, 'I wonder how they'll enforce it.' "
Some fans say they already have had enough. Dick Meyer, the editorial director for digital media at National Public Radio, wrote an op-ed piece for The Washington Post in December. It was about going to the Redskins' game against the Chicago Bears last season at FedEx Field and knowing within 10 minutes of kickoff that he'd made "a terrible mistake" by taking along his 13-year-old son. He described being surrounded by drunken fans who were obscene and menacing.
"There simply was no code of conduct, no social superego, that discouraged this behavior, even around children," Meyer wrote. "Worse, some people were there precisely to get drunk, angry, loud and vile. The idea that fans would have manners or courtesy in any form seems archaic and silly."
Meyer, who subsequently appeared on a report on fan behavior on HBO's "Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel," vowed never to attend another NFL game.