Booze and the 'Boys

IRVING, Tex.- Booze and the ‘Boys? NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is attempting to alter a relationship between the two that is so anchored in the football culture that traditionally, after a road victory, the Cowboys don't even wait until the plane lands to pop their celebratory corks.

Emmitt Smith and Nate Newton once explained the Inside-The-NFL rules to me.

From Emmitt: "On the way up to a road game, it's a business trip. There's no clowning around. We're wearing suits and ties. We're studying and talking quietly. On the way back, though, if we win, we loosen up and let our hair down.''

From Newton: "If we win, the plane is ours. I mean, as long as we win, and we don't hurt anybody or break any laws, we can tear the mother------ down. We can do anything except get buck-naked.''

That changed this week when new commissioner Goodell ordered that NFL clubs may no longer serve alcohol at team functions or on team buses or team flights, an extension of what had previously been a ban on alcohol in team locker rooms.

"I believe that no constructive purpose is served by clubs continuing to make alcoholic beverages available, and that doing so imposes significant and unnecessary risks to the league, its players and others,'' Goodell wrote in a letter directed at the 32 teams. "Effective immediately, clubs are prohibited from providing alcoholic beverages, including beer, in any club setting, including in locker rooms, practice or office facilities, or while traveling, including on team buses or flights. This prohibition extends not only to players, but to all team personnel, as well as to other guests traveling with the team or who have access to club facilities.''

It's a difficult position to argue with, especially in the wake of the deal of St. Louis Cardinals baseball player Josh Hancock, who's alleged problems with alcohol led to his death in an auto accident.

Goodell is focused on cleaning up the seedier elements that seem to amuse his sport's population, from bar brawlin' to strip-clubbin' to gun-totin' to dog-fightin'. Without trying to come off as a moralist, one would think educated and enlightened adult men could find something better to do with their money than to carry it into a titty bar in a Hefty bag and throw bills at dancers. One would think educated and enlightened adult men could find something better to do with their time than to sneak into somebody's back yard to cheer for two dogs to essential eat each other.

But. … ‘Boys will be ‘Boys?

We could go all the way back to Babe Ruth for a what-could-have-been analysis of the good times and bad times of soused jocks. But let's just take it back to Emmitt and Nate's airplane. Maybe an alcohol ban back in those halcyon days would've saved insatiable Erik Williams from his near-fatal car wreck, would've kept imprisoned Dwayne Goodrich from plowing his car through two good Samaritans, would've saved thousands and thousands of lives that end up lost because of booze-induced errors in judgment.

Maybe Goodell's actions will change the culture. Increased awareness. Education as the solution. And all that. If somehow we could all evolve beyond guzzling out of XXX jugs and pointing rifles at each other, that's a good thing, right?

And certainly there is some legal self-interest here on the part of the league. Read between Goodell's line about "significant and unnecessary risks to the league.'' If I can sue McDonald's for serving me too-hot java, why wouldn't a drunken linebacker sue Goodell, Jerry Jones, the NFL, American Airlines and Miller for serving me too much celebratory brew?

But we should brace ourselves for an uphill climb here. It's not difficult to predict that maybe the view that "we all have the privilege of killing our brain cells and ourselves if we wish'' will drive NFL players to stubbornly behave however they damn please. Dads can't buy beer at high-school football games, so somebody sneaks in a flask. Their kids can't buy beer legally, so they obtain it illegally. And on Sunday, the dad and his underage son might be watching Cowboys players not allowed to imbibe, but that doesn't mean Pops and Junior can't, right? "Just one sip, son.''

Oh, and hell, conveniently, the whole damn thing is underwritten by Miller Lite!

Indeed, if Commissioner Goodell's worthwhile morality is to really have teeth, shouldn't his next "we're-against-alcohol'' letter be send to Miller, Budweiser and Coors?

Oh, and one more thing: While Goodell can only do so much, and while this singular suggestion to football men might hopefully lead to the men themselves volunteering to take other steps toward sobriety, I'm afraid the initial reaction to the ban of, say, no booze on a return flight, will be to get off that plane as fast as a herd of 300-pound men can in order to race to the nearest watering hole.

No letter from the commissioner will slow that probable stampede.

Again, Goodell's position is a difficult one to argue with. However, because of traditions, addictions and contradictions, it is also a difficult one to enforce. And it will be a culture shock for today's three generations of football men who have grown up celebrating wins with a drink. … and maybe mourning losses with three drinks.

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