When talking about college substance abuse, a considerable amount of focus falls on fraternities, sororities and campus parties for excessive drinking and potential for substance abuse, but tailgating is another popular activity that occurs on college campuses every week. Is it possible that the tailgating culture among students is providing a gateway for substance abuse?
What Is Tailgating?
Tailgating is a longstanding tradition for both college and professional football games, and it consists of a party in the stadium parking lot before the game. Families, students and fans gather around grills and coolers, cooking meat and sharing memories of past games. The stories range from personal experiences to epic feats performed by their team, and the tradition is passed to the next generation.
John Sherry, a cultural anthropologist at the University of Notre Dame, spent some time studying tailgating culture. He concluded that tailgating is reminiscent of ancient harvest festivals, celebrations of hearth and home before the chill of winter arrived (1). In much the same way, tailgating is a celebration of the shared experience of a football tradition. It is a way for fans to prepare for the coming event, to prepare to cheer their team on to victory, and in so doing, to become part of that shared history.
What Kind of Culture Surrounds Tailgating?
Tailgating has its own culture, with traditions and social mores that include sharing food and drink with new friends and old, verbal sparring with fans of the opposing team and elaborate preparation (2).
College tailgate parties often focus on the heavy consumption of alcohol as students prepare to cheer on their classmates. Tellingly, many universities are enacting stricter rules about alcohol consumption during pre-game tailgate parties. The University of Southern California has a ban on all drinking-related games, and they require any groups serving alcohol to comply with the university’s drug-free policies.
The focus on drinking during tailgating may also encourage violence as anticipation for the game rises. Because fans of both teams often mingle while tailgating, there is a chance for alcohol-induced aggression to escalate.
Is Tailgating a Problem?
Tailgating is a time-honored tradition in football, and because of that cultural weight, it is possible that some might see the glorification of food and drink as permission to indulge in binge drinking. For some, tailgating may be a gateway into substance abuse, but that is not the sum of what tailgating is.
It is important for tailgating culture to recognize these dangers, as it appears many universities have, but tailgating is also capable of strengthening a community. People travel from hundreds of miles to socialize with family, friends and fellow fans, celebrating the long tradition of their team (3). The strength of that community can counteract the negativity that might occur through over-indulgence.