Good or bad, alcohol remains a staple in the world of sports 

Alcohol and athletics have enjoyed a long, prosperous relationship. The two, it would seem, are a match made in pro-sports heaven.

If this sounds like some sort of revelation, perhaps you haven't noticed the long, winding beer lines during any recent trip to the Ford Center or AT&T Bricktown Ballpark. This, despite the fact a 16-ounce cup of frothy spirits can cost up to $8 at some venues, and that's not including peanuts.

Or maybe you've managed to sleep through the ceaseless number of commercials splashed on the tube between innings or quarters or during halftime while getting your NFL or NASCAR fix" so many of which promote the consumption of cold, adult beverages.

The influence is inescapable, more so now that Oklahoma City has an NBA franchise as its sports centerpiece.

Brewing companies are among the biggest sponsors of professional sports leagues " from domestic staples such as Coors and Budweiser to popular imports like Corona and Guinness. And that's just the tip of the iced-down keg.

Author Peter Richmond once wrote, "there is only one game at the heart of America and that is baseball, and only one beverage to be found sloshing at the depths of our national soul and that is beer."

Although evidence would lead one to believe football has replaced baseball as our country's national pastime, the presence of alcohol in major-league sports is more prevalent today than ever.

It even has begun to spill over into nonprofessional sports, as witnessed during the recent Winter Olympic Games, when the Canadian women's hockey team celebrated its gold by drinking beer and Champagne on the ice.

While the incident drew criticism from various sources, it certainly was not the first time "non-professional" sports have been noticeably affected by booze.

Collegiate sports have long been played with the backdrop of the ever-popular tailgating parties and after-game craziness that often involves suds. And while most universities and colleges do not sell alcoholic beverages inside their stadiums and venues, there's no denying the popularity of beer when it comes to college towns, fans and the student population.

According to a recent study by the Harvard School of Public Health that sampled 14,000 college students at more than 100 four-year universities, 53 percent of those who considered themselves sports fans binge when they drink " compared to only 39 percent of non-sports fans.

Some factions believe the endless promotion of alcohol, especially in an environment like games where underage patrons are involved, is a negative reflection of our society. They point to the growing number of alcohol-related problems " especially drunk-driving casualties" and hope to see more strict regulations implemented and enforced to better protect children from early exposure.

While most NBA, NFL and MLB venues have implemented policies designed to curb public drunkenness at games, the alcohol flowing just outside the stadium gates has become problematic. The only way to police those being overly irresponsible is to provide more security personnel, and that is going to cost the teams and stadiums a bigger chunk of profits.

Like most things, it comes down to personal responsibility. In the case of young people, it's a matter of education.

There's nothing wrong with having a beer or two at the game. But do it in a responsible manner. Be aware of your surroundings, especially the family sitting in the seats to your left or right.

The Oklahoma City RedHawks, Triple-A affiliate of the Texas Rangers, offer a variety of options for hosting a group event, ranging from corporate outings to birthday celebrations to class reunions. Their luxury suites are a good alternative to taking your party into the bleachers.

"We want people to have a good time, but be responsible about it," said John Allgood, RedHawks executive director. "We take more preventative measures than anything " including not serving beer after the seventh inning. Also, the food and beverage company we use trains our concession people to look for potential underage drinkers and for anyone who potentially has had enough."

The RedHawks also hire off-duty police officers to keep the environment friendly for everyone involved.

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Jay C. Upchurch

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