These ‘sportsmen’ grin and beer it

 (Reprinted from July 1, 2010) 

  Beer and sports will be forever linked.
  Whether or not you personally choose to imbibe in the malt-and-hops mixture is irrelevant. The fact is that more than enough people do so while attending athletic events to render the small number of non-drinkers meaningless.
  If that weren’t true, why would beer manufacturers be regular sponsors of sports broadcasts? It’s all but impossible to watch a football game on TV, for example, and not see a plethora of beer ads, most of which are juvenile in their sales approach.
  Unlike the famed Miller Lite commercials of the 1970s and ’80s that featured retired jocks spouting genuinely clever and humorous dialogue, today’s TV spots tend to embrace a frat-house mentality and lack any memorable moments, save for the lingering camera shot of whatever scantily-clad coed du jour is being used in the ad. The one thing that does make me laugh is how the goofy, beer-holding — notice how no one is actually shown drinking the product on those commercials — guys think they’ve got a chance to become involved with Ms. Hot Number, who, in real life, would either mock or completely ignore them.
  There’s proof positive of how alcohol can impair both judgment and sensibilities.

  But we’ve learned to live with beer commercials as a trade-off for being able to watch many games free of charge. However, what happens when beer becomes part of the game itself?
  A recent Associated Press story — housed under the “sports” heading no less — talked about an activity called “beer pong,” which consists of two teams assembling at opposite ends of a table, upon which sit two sets of 10 plastic cups filled with beer and arranged in a triangle formation. One set of cups is placed in front of each team.
  The object is for shooters to try and toss Ping-Pong balls into the cups across from them. If a ball goes in, the cup is taken off the table and a member of the opposing team has to drink the beer in it. The first team to get rid of all 10 of its opponents’ cups wins.
  That’s it. Hardly the stuff from which athletic legends are created, but suddenly beer pong has become more than just a novelty pastime for the inebriated college crowd that lacks something more substantive to do with its free time.
  Now, there’s money to be made from the endeavor, beyond the silly side wagers pals of the “competitors” might engineer. That aforementioned AP story told of a nationwide contest recently held in Atlantic City that awarded a $25,000 first prize to the winners, courtesy of something called the “World Beer Pong Tour.”
  Actually, the event should have been dubbed “Water Pong,” since that supposedly was the liquid found in the cups. According to the tour commissioner — and, yes, I felt ridiculous writing the words “tour commissioner” in this specific instance — Sam Pines, “No one [was] here to get drunk or act like fools,” and a few of the competitors echoed his sentiment. One went so far as to claim using beer is “totally ’90s.”
  I guess that means the activity can now be considered fun for the whole family.
  Of course, there remain some hard-core types, such as Brian Bailey. The 25-year-old Maine resident offered this description of his average day to the AP writer: “I play all day with beer. It’s like, we get hammered and make cups all day. I drink all day and make cups all day. That’s what I do. That’s my life.”
  Bailey can afford to be that devoted because he doesn’t have to hassle with the whole employment thing. Not being on any company’s payroll gives Bailey plenty of time to waste, something at which he’s obviously proving quite adept.
  A New Jersey man named Antonio Vassilates doesn’t want everyone to think, however, that just any drunken bum can adequately handle the demands of beer pong. In fact, Vassilates — whose play is apparently marked by histrionics that 1970s relief-pitching icon Al “The Mad Hungarian” Hrabosky would envy — asserts “the kids who know this is a growing sport take it seriously. It is a real sport.”
  Yeah, and so are lawnmower racing, ironing, Frisbee, pole dancing, rock/paper/scissors and any one of myriad other undertakings, at least if you listen to those who get involved with them. But just because someone’s dumb enough to put up prize money doesn’t instantly make it a sport.
  And beer pong is the worst idea yet. If, as Pines said, water was used in the Atlantic City contest, fine. But what about those times when beer is in the cups?
  It’s an invitation for rapid inebriation, which means that, unless a lot of those competitors have made overnight lodging arrangements with the bar owner, the number of drunken drivers increases at closing time. And while defenders of beer pong will insist such a thing won’t happen, I ask you to consider some of the names on T-shirts worn by the Atlantic City competitors — “Drunkenballers” and “Drunk and Drunker” are two of the most charming.
  Listen, too, to the words of Virginia man Thomas Reap, considered one of the leading men in beer pong. He told the AP that his team gets challenged quite often because he and his partner are “the best in the world, so [opponents] have to drink a lot.”
  Just what we need: another reason for groups of young men to overindulge in alcohol. But, hey, it’s all in the name of sport, so it’s OK.
  I’m sure the Brian Baileys of the world will gladly drink to that.