Sports heroes should reject alcohol ads.

April 06, 1997|By Gregory P. Kane

Michael Jordan, take a pay cut. You too, Cal Ripken. The rest of you stars of major pro sports should consider doing the same.

Part of the revenue used to pay professional athletes comes from television commercials of sporting events. Some of those commercials extol the celebratory and exhilarating effects of booze - mostly beer.

It's time professional sports - team owners and players - told the booze companies they don't need their money. They - and the television networks - should tell the alcohol peddlers to take a hike, that no more commercials that raise boozing to the level of a cultural imperative will be accepted.

The reason is obvious: Professional athletes, sports team owners, television network executives and purveyors of alcoholic beverages know what the country's No. 1 drug problem is. It's not cocaine. It's not heroin. It's alcohol. Any television commercial that suggests ingesting alcohol is fun and not a symptom of that problem borders on criminality. Anybody accepting money from those commercials should have a hard time sleeping at night.

Any major sports commissioner handing out a fine to a player for using drugs while saying nothing about the bonanza being reaped from those alcohol ads is being downright hypocritical. And our youth can see that.

This issue came up recently when I talked to the Howard County branch of the National Political Congress of Black Women. The ever-vexing subject of America's drug problem and what to do about it came up. Was legalization the answer, one woman asked. Possibly, I said, but we can't legalize drugs now. Not with our current attitude toward booze. Not with the message we send that getting high is a good and holy thing. We'd only do ourselves more harm than good.

No, I said. We've got to rid ourselves of those television commercials that deliver the message that drinking and having a good time are one and the same thing. Children watching those commercials pick up that message when they're very young, on a subconscious level. When they reach adolescence or their early teens and then take to the bottle, we adults stare in bewilderment and then wonder what the hell happened to them.

We happened to them. Their elders. With our double standards and our hypocrisy. With our insistence that watching violent programs has an effect on our children, that violent movies and gangsta rap have an effect on our children, but somehow these commercials - which they can see during any football or baseball or basketball game - are totally harmless.

"Say no to drugs," the quaint, effete war-on-drugs slogan goes.

"Say yes to booze," we reinforce to our children daily, virtually signaling our surrender to the worst drug problem we have, thus exposing our pathetic and ineffective drug war for the sham it is.

How do we fight a war on drugs on every front but one - and the major one at that? So far our drug war has consisted of police and federal agents breaking down the doors of law-abiding folks based on the word of those always reliable street informants and locking up scores of street-level drug dealers. The real victory in winning the war on drugs is winning hearts and minds. And we aren't any better at that in the war on drugs than we were in the war in Vietnam.

That's because we don't want to face the Booze Beast. We did once, with the Volstead Act, which marked the beginning of the Prohibition Era of the 1920s. The act was repealed after large numbers of Americans decided to flout the law, and some gangsters used the opportunity to get rich very quickly. Lost in the debate has been the reason many women's groups pushed for the Volstead Act in the first place: the link between alcohol and domestic violence against women.

When we dropped the Volstead Act, we made the grievous error of not realizing that if we weren't going to make booze illegal, we at least shouldn't advertise the stuff. We have that chance now. Professional athletes, as the premier role models in our society, can and should take the lead. They should say that television commercials pushing alcohol are unacceptable, and they're willing to take a pay cut to back up their position.

It's time we all sent a message that the makers of Coors and Bud Light should take a hike and find somewhere else to peddle their products.

Pub Date: 4/06/97

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.