NFL Linebacker Case Highlights League's Ties to Alcohol Money, Says CSPI

League Penalizes Players for Alcohol Abuse While Profiting from Beer Sales


WASHINGTON—While the National Football League (NFL) talks a big game about not tolerating substance abuse among its players, it is simultaneously enabling alcohol abuse among its fans by aggressively advertising beer on TV and in stadiums, where it also sells alcoholic beverages, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI).

This inconsistency was recently noted by Hamilton County (Ohio) Municipal Court Judge John Burlew during a hearing for Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Odell Thurman, who was suspended from the NFL last season. Odell was first suspended for four games after skipping a drug test, and later for the remainder of the season after an arrest for drunken driving. Thurman will face Judge Burlew again tomorrow and could receive jail time for violating probation, according to the Associated Press.

“The allegations are that you had a legal substance—alcohol—in your body, a substance which they advertise and get money from, millions of dollars a year from,” Burlew told Thurman, adding that if the league was serious about alcohol abuse prevention, it would stop alcohol sponsorship and selling alcohol in stadiums.

In a letter to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, CSPI Alcohol Policies Project Director George Hacker and CSPI’s Campaign for Alcohol-Free Sports TV Manager Tracy Downs pointed out that the positive values children learn from sports should be detached from the promotion of alcohol. New research on alcohol advertising “suggests that exposure to ads and branded paraphernalia is related to increased quantity and frequency of drinking and intentions to drink among teenagers and adolescents,” Hacker and Downs wrote.

“It is troubling that alcohol marketers use sponsorship as a vehicle to reach large numbers of young, impressionable children with messages that indelibly link alcoholic beverages with popular sports such as football,” they added.

In May 2007, Commissioner Goodell extended the league’s ban of alcohol in locker rooms to include all team functions and travel and told the 32 NFL teams that by serving alcohol, they impose “significant and unnecessary risks to the league, its players and others." Goodell’s decision sent a strong message that alcohol use can be detrimental to the NFL, but this message is at odds with the NFL’s own alcohol advertising policy, according to CSPI.

CSPI urged the NFL to eliminate alcohol ads during telecasts, and weaken the link between alcohol use and sports. The Campaign for Alcohol-Free Sports TV seeks to reduce the amount of alcoholic beverage advertising to underage children and young adults who tune into televised sports.

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