Study about drunk fans has a limited sample

A recently released study suggests that 8 percent of fans leave sporting events drunk. This may be an interesting finding – but the newspaper description of the sample suggests there may be issues:

University of Minnesota researchers tested the blood alcohol content of 362 people to see how much folks drink when they go to professional baseball and football games. In their study, released Tuesday, they determined that 40 percent of the participants had some alcohol in their system and 8 percent were drunk, meaning their blood alcohol content was .08 or higher.

“Given the number of attendees at these sporting events, we can be talking about thousands of people leaving a professional sporting event who are legally intoxicated,” lead author Darin Erickson said. The study did not address what percentage, if any, of those fans intended to drive.

To collect the data, research staff waited outside 13 Major League Baseball and three National Football League games and randomly approached fans as they left. Those who consented took a breath test and answered questions about when, where and how much they drank on game day.

So the researchers waited outside 16 sporting events. Across these 16 events, the researchers performed voluntary tests on 362 people. This averages out to 22.625 fans per event.

Let’s say the events average at least 30,000 fans – not an unreasonable expectation for MLB and NFL games. If they tested about 23 fans at each event, that is less than 1 percent of each fans at each game. How could these findings be considered generalizable? First, you would need to test more fans. Second, could there be something different about the fans who were willing to volunteer for this test after a game?

Another report on this study bumps the sample number up a bit to 382 people. This doesn’t change the averages too much. Also, this may be the first study to examine the particular phenomenon of drinking at sporting events. However, the sample still seems to be too small even as the research study is going to be published in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

Baseball as primitive religious ritual

One common means that sociologists use to gain perspective on social phenomena is to consider what an alien might observe and conclude if they happened to see human social life. Hampton Stevens takes a similar tack at theAtlantic.com to report on baseball as a primitive religious ritual:

Essentially, the religion of baseball is based on the hurling of a small, white orb that represents the sins of believers, and the attempt to expiate those sins by the ritualized touching of three small white squares. Two bands of warrior-priests wage an intricate, highly symbolic battle to see who can cleanse the most of their followers’ sins.

Each sect has a high priest. He stands elevated atop a circular mound at the very heart of the temple, the sanctum sanctorum of, beneath which are buried his ancestors and martyrs to the faith. Hurling the white sphere, he thus symbolically accuses the entire community of some great wrongdoing, challenging them to defend themselves and their sacred honor.

A cleric from the opposing clan does just that. He holds a weapon, offering a defense by trying to strike the orb in the hopes of being allowed to progress through the series of small white squares and therefore disprove the accusation.

While this may seem like a silly essay, it has value:

1. It is always useful to be reminded how others view practices that we think of as “normal.” Whether the others are aliens or people from different cultures, it is a reminder that what is obvious to us may not be obvious to others. Indeed, social life is made of up of norms and rules that one must learn starting at a young age.

2. Sporting events can be thought of on religious terms. While I have joked that being a Cubs fan is almost like having another religion because of the amount of faith it requires, sports in American society can be analyzed as “functional religion.” Particularly with an event like the Super Bowl, the amount of attention, time, and money spent on sports is astounding. We gather in stadiums/”hallowed grounds” to lustily cheer on our “good” team versus the “evil” team from another place. We might even go so far as to suggest that it may be possible that more Americans pay more attention to sports than they do to religion.