Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Football Trash Talk

September 12, 2012 10:10 a.m.

Iowa City: Where Great Minds Drink Alike

Football is not pretty. Last Saturday [Sept. 8] it was the Iowa State game. This Saturday it will be the University of Northern Iowa.

Last Saturday may be the worst I've ever seen.

And I'm not even talking about the Hawkeyes' performance inside Kinnick. Nor am I talking about the exploitation of student athletes for what is, in fact, big business -- complete with TV revenues, multi-million-dollar facilities, budgets (and salaries). I'm not talking about current concern over the life-long consequences for players from concussions and other injuries.

I'm talking about one of the consequences from the University of Iowa's alcohol culture -- the effort to mix what the pictured shirt advertises ("Iowa City: Great Minds Drink Alike") as the improbable co-existence of "great minds" and a student binge drinking rate twice the national average.

On Monday the Daily Iowan reported 78 arrests, most of which involved alcohol. "Police Blotter, Daily Iowan, September 10, 2012, p. 2. On Tuesday it reported that, among Iowa's state schools, "the UI ranks highest in total number of incidents reported, total number of charges, and total number of people arrested in both 2011 and the first half of 2012." "New crime stats show UI highest in overall activity", Daily Iowan, September 11, 2012, p. 2. The Press-Citizen and Register reported, Lee Hermiston, "140 alcohol citations given near Kinnick on Saturday," Iowa City Press-Citizen/Des Moines Register, September 11, 2012.

But even with regard to alcohol, I'm not talking about the personal and institutional consequences of this culture -- the self-inflicted injuries, the violence, the unwanted pregnancies, permanent brain damage, the hospital admissions for injuries and near-fatal blood alcohol levels, the drunk driving deaths and injuries to others, the missed classes, absenteeism from work, and the ultimate student drop-out rates. E.g., Robert McCoppin, "Colleges try new tactics in battle against binge drinking; Campuses offer safety training, sponsor dry events and require alcohol assessments, but 'there is no magic bullet,' an NU official says," Chicago Tribune, September 5, 2012 ("[T]he National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, blames binge drinking for more than 1,800 college student deaths a year . . .. Research shows that frequent binge drinkers are more likely to miss classes, get hurt, engage in risky sex and have problems in class."); Rick Nauert, "Binge Drinking Linked to Brain Damage," PsycCentral, June 28, 2011 ("experts now believe binge drinking can cause serious brain damage").

What I'm limiting myself to this morning is the behavior of the fans, its impact on the residential neighborhoods surrounding the stadium, and more specifically what it says about the attitudes of fans and university officials.

It just seemed to me last Saturday that the music was much louder, the language more gross, the drunkenness more obvious, and the urination on private lawns more offensive.

And the trash. Oh, the trash.

Bottles are thrown in the air just for the thrill of watching them fall and shatter. Cans are dropped, rather than put in available trash containers.

Eventually, at least most of it gets picked up within a couple of days -- thanks in large measure to the homeless and others who gather and recycle the cans. Even they are handicapped, however, by what seems to be the new macho sport of can crushing. Crushed cans can't be recycled, so they are left on private property.

It's bad enough that fans just drop their trash wherever they happen to be. What's worse for homeowners, however, is that the students don't just drop it. That would make it easier for others to pick up. Rather, they choose to demonstrate their athletic prowess, having crushed the can, by throwing their trash of all kinds into and under bushes and shrubs. As a result, picking up trash from one's yard requires crawling under the bushes to try to retrieve trash that is visible but well out of reach. This picture illustrates a small portion of what one elderly woman was able to retrieve, and pile up, before carrying it to her own trash container.

What I found especially offensive was the trash deposited in front of the Mormon "Institute of Religion." It is, among other things, a rather ironic choice of location for one's alcohol-related trash, given that UI's Mormon students are the one group that neither consumes alcohol nor has been brought up to drop their trash for others to pick up. I'm not a member of the LDS church, but I like to see respect accorded all religions and their property. It may be those who put it there were simply demonstrating the same general drunken thoughtlessness that was evident throughout the neighborhood and that -- notwithstanding the sign out front -- they were totally unaware of the purpose of one of the neighborhood's finest buildings. At least I hope it was no more than that.

Whatever UI's administrators may say, these pictures reflect what "Responsibility Matters" looks like. (To borrow from the Chicago teachers' picketing chant, "this is what democracy looks like," I can hear the trash protesters pointing and chanting: "Show me what 'responsibility' looks like" -- "This is what 'responsibility' looks like.")

In fairness, it's tough for a university administration to simultaneously try to (1) carry out programs designed to discourage college students from binge drinking and other forms of alcohol abuse and its consequences, while (2) (a) engaging in a lucrative joint-marketing agreement designed to increase the sale of Anheuser-Busch products, and (b) engaging in a gambling bet between the presidents of Iowa and Iowa State in which the winner gets -- that's right, a bottle of booze. (The UI administration has reassured critics of this last seeming conflict by noting that it advises that hard liquor as well as beer should also be consumed "responsibily.") Iowa State, Iowa university presidents settle up on college football bet," Des Moines Register/Iowa City Press-Citizen, September 13, 2012 ("On the line was a bottle of Templeton Rye, a drink sold by an Iowa-based company and billed as 'Prohibition-era whiskey.' . . . [D]oes wagering alcohol while the university works to curb problem drinking send a mixed message? University officials say no.")

The UI administration recently bragged that some of the alcohol abuse statistics on campus had actually declined. (Binge drinking rates remain twice the national average.) The leader of the school's "Responsibility Matters" movement concedes, however, that “Culture change takes a long time.” True. But I rather suspect that "culture change" takes longer still at a university that promotes the sale of beer, and whose administrators gamble with bottles of hard liquor. Just saying. Nate Otjen, "Iowa City-UI alcohol partnership touts new statistics," Daily Iowan, September 13, 2012.

For background and commentry on the Anheuser-Busch deal, UI's alcohol programs, and numerous ignored proposals for improvement, see, among many more, e.g.: "UI Administrators 'Shocked' By School's Beer Ads," August 30, 2012; "'We're # 2!' . . . in Campus Drunks," August 21, 2012; "A Busch in the Hand is Worth . . .," June 16, 2012; "Lessons from Lincoln: Reducing Binge Drinking Hazards," May 21, 2010; UI's Alcohol Abuse: Look to Nebraska," December 28, 2009; UI's Alcohol Problem: Many Solutions, Little Will; Alcohol Back in the News? No, Always in the News," December 16, 2009 (with links to 30 more); "Getting Real About Alcohol," January 18, 2008.

Apparently the Melrose neighborhood was not the only repository for trash. "A mass of volunteers descended upon Kinnick Stadium last weekend. Their task was simple— recycle every piece of waste. . . . Roughly 4,700 pounds of recycling were collected . . .. 'The majority of waste is in the stands after the game,' said . . . the president of Delta Tau Delta." Kelsey L. Johnson, "Recycling Initiatives for Iowa-Iowa State Game Yield Results," Daily Iowan, September 14, 2012. Two thoughts: Over two tons of trash left behind by fans! A multi-million-dollar football program that doesn't pay the players the fans come to see, and then relies on volunteers to pick up the trash their entertainment program produces?!

Ah, but there's more. Apparently downtown Iowa City wasn't very pretty either. "On Sunday morning at 9 a.m., downtown Iowa City wasn’t the fun-filled place to party. It was a place no public relations firm would want to promote. I saw numerous piles of vomit, broken bar glasses and beer bottles, numerous plates of half-eaten food sitting around the outdoor caf├ęs, and trash blowing everywhere." Andrea Rauer, "Use Beer Money to Clean Downtown," Iowa City Press-Citizen, September 14, 2012, p. A7.

As for UI's students with alcohol-soaked "great minds," someone, sometime, better tell them that a great mind with a B.A. degree is only one of many, many qualities necessary to progress along the road to whatever they consider "success" -- whether the financial ability to engage in the "conspicuous consumption" of the rich, or a reduced-stress bliss. Along with at least minimal social and time-management skills, and what my parents' generation used to call "the sense God gave geese," it includes things as mundane as the civility to pick up and dispose of one's own trash.

And that's the point of this blog entry. It's not about football or alcohol -- although both are involved. It's about being thoughtful, and sensitive to others. And it's about, as was the case during the recent Penn State discussion, what the NCAA calls "institutional control." "Institutional Control," NCAA Constitution, Art. 6, NCAA 2011-12 Division I Manual, p. 43; and see Michelle Brutlag Hosick, "Presidential Leadership Drives Transformation," NCAA News, June 28, 2012.

2 comments:

Mike McKay said...

Nick, you are spot on again. I will never understand this culture where coaches are idolized, criminal activities of athletes and fans are brushed off, and trashing property, public and private, is not given a thought.

I love sports and played many sports for years. For the life of me, I will never understand the insane fans that attend sporting events. They are obnoxious in the pursuit of their "fandom". Ridiculous.

LJHawkeye said...

It doesn't appear that my post made its way through cyber space, so since I spent so long to create it, and it was so good, I'll try gain. If it gets posted twice, you will just have twice the enjoyment in reading it:

"I completely agree with Nick and Mike. I guess that not being responsible hasn't changed much, except the quantity of trash, since I regularly attended games many, many years ago. I won't say how long ago, but Jerry Burns was the head coach, and for most of the home games, the first UI unit to cross the 50-yard line was the band. But, I digress.

I would like to think that we fans did a better job of policing the area "back in the day," but I'm not that naive.

I do have a question: Crushed cans aren't recyclable? That seems odd since I think in most states they are. Here in SoCal, a lot of people crush their cans, if for no reason they take up less space.

Also, back then, Boy Scout troops, and possibly middle and high schools pretty much cleaned up the trash from the stadium, but that was probably before recycling. Regardless, everyone needs to be more responsible with their trash. If you drink it or eat it, dispose of it probably.

Thus endeth the sermon for the day.

Go Hawks!"