Thursday, September 13, 2007

Serious Reflections on "Football's Externalities"

September 13, 2007, 7:45 a.m.

Serious Reflections on "Football's Externalities"

We had some good-natured fun with pictures of the morning after the night before (the Syracuse game last Saturday). Nicholas Johnson, "Hawkeye Football's Externalities," September 9, 2007.

This morning I'd like to add a serious comment or two.

One of the things we try to train our law students to do is referred to as "spotting the issue." It's a skill involving detailed analysis, a pulling on the threads of analytically different considerations out of a fabric that might otherwise produce an overall, and muddled, general impression.

That's what I'd like to do this morning in writing about the chaos of drunken pre-game crowds.

I'm speaking only for myself, not my neighbors or our neighborhood association.

But there is much about Hawkeye football -- including the crowds of "bumble bees" -- that provides for me something between real enjoyment and "no problem." It's colorful. It's exciting. We enjoy talking to the sober students and visitors from out of town walking by our house, or who we encounter as we stroll along Melrose Avenue in a sea of black and gold. If we don't go to the games, and they are televised, we are close enough to hear the roar of the crowd from Kinnick following a Hawkeye accomplishment on the field.

We don't park cars on our lawn (except on rare occasions, for free, for some out-of-town friend). We don't have students living in the house. We don't "tailgate," or have others doing it, on our property. The largest parking operation near our house involves what may even be an alcohol-free crowd. I don't know. There's tailgating there, but not that much noise and seemingly little or no litter afterwards.

Disaster waiting to happen. To start with my conclusion, the most serious aspect of out-of-control, unsupervised, drunken mobs is their potential to create significant, regrettable disasters. You name it, you imagine it, it could happen. Fights between fans of rival teams that involve increasing numbers of people, and the resulting serious injuries or death as guns or knives are ultimately involved. When a drunken student suffocates to death on his own vomit, or falls from a building to his death (it's usually a "his"), it may make the news. The hundreds of injuries from assaults and accidents do not. We've seen the extent of injury and death from drunken, out-of-control mobs of soccer fans around the world. It could happen here.
Excessive alcohol can encourage deliberate vandalism and property damage, possibly even involving accidental or deliberate fire damage. Neighborhood homes that are unoccupied (perhaps because their residents are sitting in the stadium) are open targets for every property crime on the books.

That's the problem. In fact, any other issues, or problems, really fade in significance by comparison.

Trash and urination. The trash that's left lying about the neighborhoods and parking lots after a game is of greatest significance simply as evidence of the excessive alcohol consumption that fueled such behavior -- and the risks it creates that are alluded to above.

The most serious element of trash qua trash is the broken glass -- which I have witnessed being created by drunken students throwing bottles in the air just to watch them crash on the pavement. Broken glass can cause human and animal injury. It can puncture bicycle and automobile tires (as I have experienced). It is sometimes hard to see, and is always difficult to completely remove -- ironically even more so if someone, thinking they're being helpful, moves it off of a sidewalk and into the adjoining lawn.

Aside from that, what's the harm? Well, there is some. (a) It reflects badly on the students, the University (and athletic program) administrators, and the City. It's not consistent with our self-image -- or what we advertise to the world. It doesn't encourage parents to send their kids here (thereby risking our increased revenue from tuition.) (b) It's far more expensive to deal with than if folks picked up after themselves. (c) It shows disrespect to the private homeowners (by City, University and polluters alike) who have to clean their yards.

In my case, it just means I have to get down on my hands and knees to crawl under hedges to collect the trash that has been thrown under them, rather than just dropped where I could more easily pick it up. I can probably benefit from that exercise, and it doesn't take all that long.

Public urination is a little more gross and disrespectful than leaving trash. But until it gets to smelling really bad it probably doesn't do the lawn all that much harm -- it may even provide a fertilizing benefit -- and will be pretty well diluted after we get the next good rain.

With some exceptions, most of the trash has been picked up -- by someone -- within 24 hours after a game. (In fact, heavy street sweeper equipment was going up and down the street outside my house at 2:30 or 3:00 Sunday morning. Like the Cheerios commercial line used to have it: "That was very thoughtful. Very early, but very thoughtful.") So aside from the broken glass it's more of a University embarrassment, visual blight and irritant than a truly serious problem.

Noise. Some complain of noise from the crowds. I complain about shouting, loud music, firecrackers (or is it gun shots?), screeching car tires and roaring motorcycles at 3:00 in the morning. Aside from that, it doesn't bother me all that much -- especially when it's a roar from Kinnick following a Hawk's touchdown. It's all part of "game day."

So what's the answer? President Lyndon Johnson was sometimes a little hard on his staff. I finally stopped counting the number of times he fired Bill Moyers, only to hire him back again later in the day. Anyhow, a story is told -- it may be true, it may be only apocryphal -- about a disgruntled speech writer charged with writing one more set of "rose garden pap" notes on speech cards for the President to use for one of those rose garden gatherings just outside his office. The cards went something like this:

"Now I've been asked about 'guns and butter.'
"Folks want to know how we can pay for the War in Vietnam and still pay for our 'Great Society' programs.
"'Guns and butter.'
"Well, we can pay for both.
"And I'm going to tell you, today, exactly how we're going to do it, too."
When the President turned to the next card it read, simply:

"Now you're on your own, you old SOB. I quit."
All of which is by way of saying, I don't have any more of an answer than that young speech writer had.

And I don't have the time at the moment to sit and brainstorm by myself what some of the options might be.

I'm just "spotting the issue." And I think I've found it. I think we do have a problem. A very, very serious potential problem in the form of a disaster waiting to happen.

I just don't think it's that empty beer can almost out of my reach under my hedge.

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Anonymous said...

The U of Michigan, one of the supposed top public universities has worse fans than UI. I have seen it firsthand. This problem is not unique to the UI.

Anonymous said...

I am not sure what your point is...Does the fact that U of Michigan has worse fans make it okay?

Anonymous said...

My only point is that we dont look bad because of this because other schools are just as bad. Its all relative. Does it make it ok? Depends on whom you talk to.

Anonymous said...

So because it happens in Ann Arbor too, he shouldn't be upset that people are taking a leak in his yard every other Saturday?

Anonymous said...

Sure, he can get upset. Kinnick Stadium has been there for 80 years. I am pretty sure he knew there were 6 home games a year before he moved in. BTW, I grew up in the same neighborhood, and I chased people off from my grandma's yard who were taking a pee.

Anonymous said...

It's a lot worse now in this neighborhood than it was 10 years ago because a number of single family homes are now rentals filled beyond capacity with students. I agree with Nick that here is a disaster waiting to happen. I would feel safer if there were a few police officers on foot patrol in this neighborhood during the day on football Saturdays.