LAWSUIT BLAMES PARALYSIS ON NFL

New York Post - New York, N.Y.
Author:Phil Mushnick
Date:Oct 19, 2003
Start Page:008
Section:NYP TV WEEK
Text Word Count:659

(Copyright 2003, The New York Post. All Rights Reserved)

THE story, last week, made all the local newscasts. Had to. While it was a tragic story, it also held some of that modern get-a-load- of-this-latest-lawsuit incredulity, something akin to that lady who sued McDonald's for spilling a cup of its hot coffee on herself.

The parents of a child who was paralyzed by a drunk driver had added the NFL to their lawsuit. The driver, with a blood alcohol nearly three times the legal limit, had gotten loaded at a Giants' game. And now, in addition to the Meadowlands, the stadium's contracted beer vendor and the Giants, the plaintiffs were suing the NFL.

To the untrained senses, such a suit might sound like a greedy reach, an attempt to assign blame to everyone a lawyer could think of beyond the perpetrator. And if we're any judge of voice inflection, that's how the story was reported.

After all, the only person responsible for this horror was the 34- year-old fellow who chose to drink himself blind at a Giants' game, and he'd already been sentenced to five years in prison.

But this suit has merit; it's as loaded with merit as that guy was with beer. And if the NFL loses it or chooses to settle, this case could - and should - change the face of sports commerce, especially as it relates to television.

To begin to grasp the legitimacy of this claim against the NFL all one need do is turn to an NFL telecast. The recidivist commercial message is loud, disturbing and inescapable: The NFL fosters a patron base of beer drinkers, mostly young and mostly out of control.

The NFL's current "official beer," Coors, has produced a series of NFL-attached commercials displaying entry-level beer drinkers seizing NFL games as an invitation to get blitzed and go crazy. In one of these commercials, Oakland Raiders' fans, along with singer Kid Rock, are given starring roles.

Raiders fans have long been identified - and mindlessly celebrated - as among the most predatory in sports. Police in Oakland have erected a stadium-side arraignment center/holding pen in service to the drunk and disorderly at Raider games. And the NFL fully knows it. That it would sell its name to such ad campaigns is beyond contempt. But as long as the checks clear . . .

I've spoken with a prominent beer distributor who is not only disgusted by the advertising of NFL-licensed breweries, he has identified such ads as a come-on for successful litigation.

The NFL knows exactly what's going on. It knows that a significant percentage of its fans arrive hours before games so that they can get drunk in the parking lots and continue to drink once the game begins. Its teams regularly hear from patrons who can no longer indulge the miscreant behavior of drunks in their midst.

The Meadowlands, this past spring, allowed beer trucks, taps extended from their sides, just outside the main entrance prior to Nets' NBA playoff games. Patrons were encouraged to buy and drink beer - to "party" - before they even entered. Once inside, they could buy more.

Did no one consider that these "fans," entering from the parking lot would be driving home?

The NFL's contracted TV networks have long done their part to identify drunks as the NFL's "best" customers and preferred patrons. Crowd shots almost invariably reward the guys making a scene, those with their shirts off, their beer muscles hoisting a jumbo cup. Or two.

Antonia Verni is paralyzed and on a ventilator. Her parents were driving her home from a Sunday pumpkin-picking excursion when a drunk, having just left Giants Stadium, struck.

"What they do," the Vernis' attorney, Rosemarie Arnold, said of the NFL, "is promote the concept that you can't have fun at a football game unless you're drunk."

Couldn't agree more, Ms. Arnold. Now go get 'em.

[Illustration]
THE NFL FOSTERS A PATRON BASE OF BEER DRINKERS, MOSTLY YOUNG AND MOSTLY OUT-OF-CONTROL.

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