Unfortunately, it was exhibition in drunkenness, too

John Steadman

September 02, 1992|By John Steadman

So many drunken, disorderly men were apprehended and asked to leave the National Football League exhibition game at Memorial Stadium -- which amounted to the opening and closing of Baltimore's 1992 season -- that the Police Department had a workout almost comparable to the teams on the field.

Officers merely made apprehensions, accompanied the offending parties to the gate and barred them from the premises. Four arrests were made, including three for disorderly conduct and one for trespassing -- a fan who obviously thought he was a human fly and attempted to scale a stadium light tower.

Although sports writers in the press box were unaware of what was going on in the stands, recurring protests have come from spectators, who called this writer and others in the media to voice complaints of the regrettable crowd behavior. Jerry Bembry, a sports writer of The Sun attending the game as a fan, said it was the "worst conduct" he had ever observed.

"I personally saw four fights going on around me," he commented. "I watched a kid, who was drunk, verbally abuse a police officer. He was screaming, 'Don't you know who [expletive deleted] my father is!' It was disgusting. I watched as the policeman walked away."

Another reporter who observed the battle scene was Nestor Aparicio, formerly of The Evening Sun and now host to a sports talk show on radio station WITH. "It was the most alarming conduct in sports I ever saw," he remarked. "I've been to all kinds of concerts around the country, rock and even heavy metal, where some of the audience became unruly but nothing like this. Sections in the stadium had two and three fights going on at the same time. The Baltimore police did an amazing job of keeping it under control."

The reason for the disturbances, which started like so many flash fires, and were, in turn, put out by the police, can be attributed to alcohol abuse. Sam Ringgold, a spokesman for the Police Department who attended the game, said, "There were a lot of fights in my section, too."

The police had a detail of 80 men and women present and responded to each potentially explosive situation in a commend able manner. The stadium police control is headed by Lt. Philip Farace, a 42-year member of the force assigned to the Tactical Squad. He has been manning the stadium post with a high degree of professionalism since 1960.

"It wasn't the regular stadium football crowd," he said. "For a lot of them there, it was a one-night stand. They didn't know anyone seated next to them. With a regular football gathering, season-ticket holders see each other game after game and form a friendship and respect for each other. This creates a wholesome atmosphere.

"When the Colts were here and riding high, our problems were minimal. The fans were courteous and looked out for each other. When the police come into situations like we experienced the other night, our first objective in addressing this type problem is to calm it down. We ask trouble-makers to leave. Most of them understand but some don't."

Farace says the season for the Orioles in the new downtown park has been relatively free of problems. But, from all aspects, the exhibition game last Thursday tested the police as they tried to preserve order.

"We had reports of some drinking at tail-gate parties on the parking lot as early as 11 a.m.," Farace said. "Then there was more beer drinking inside at the game and this combination made for the difficulties."

The public paid $25 and $35 for tickets and didn't deserve to be exposed to cursing, name-calling and fights. "One fan was wearing a Washington Redskin helmet and that was his prerogative," added the lieutenant. "But some fans took exception and a fight started. When you have drinking, something as innocuous as that can trigger problems."

Another encounter took place over ownership of a plastic cup, which carried an NFL logo. Farace believes a starting point for less drinking would be if beer was sold only at concession outlets and not in the stands. This way, if you wanted to buy beer you would have to go to a location set up for that purpose. In other words, make it an inconvenience and the consumption might not be as great. This would minimize the problems.

What about adopting a policy of not selling beer in the stadium? "I believe a person should have the right to buy it if he wants it," Farace answered. "Why make everyone suffer? It's only when it gets out of hand that we have trouble."

From most aspects, Baltimore continues to receive glowing reviews for the way it staged the game. The NFL called it a "four-star" performance. But that excludes the percentage of drunks present and how they made what should have been a totally pleasant evening for the audience something less than that.

One suggestion to defuse the problem would be to erect a drunk tank outside the end zone, put the offenders there on view and wet them down with a fire hose until they sober up.

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