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PRINT March 1988

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ONE OF OUR LOCAL basketball heroes, Chris Mullin, recently of Saint John’s University in Queens, now with Oakland’s Golden State Warriors of the National Basketball Association, has been in the newspapers quite a lot lately because he’s been receiving treatment for alcoholism. Sports fans are used to hearing about pro basketball players and other athletes undergoing rehabilitation for drug addiction, but all-American Chris Mullin seems to be the last person anyone ever expected to see in rehab, even though his uncle died of the complications of alcoholism. Mullin is devoted to his sport and he has a clean image. He is not known as a drug-user or a hard boozer. But he is known as a beer-drinker, and despite rumors involving drugs, perhaps fueled by the difficulty some journalists feel in seeing beer-drinking in any amount as troublesome, it seems that beer is Mullin’s problem.

There are many theories about what happened to our favorite gym rat, and one sportswriter has suggested that Mullin fell victim to the considerable advertising and promotions for beer that are associated with basketball and other spectator sports. Not only are sports events liberally punctuated with beer spots when they’re broadcast on radio and TV, but beer companies physically get into the events themselves. As one sportswriter pointed out, the American team in a recent international hockey competition wore helmets emblazoned with the Budweiser logo. And these players were amateurs, collegians, youngsters.

But that’s just the beginning for Bud. The beer’s name appears on all sorts of sports vehicles—formula-one cars, dragsters, stock cars, all the way up to Miss Budweiser, the world’s fastest hydroplane. There is, in fact, an anomalous thing known as the Budweiser Racing Team. And in baseball, they don’t call the home of this year’s National League champions, the Saint Louis Cardinals, Busch Stadium for nothing. The stadium was built on Bud money, and when the Cards met the Twins in the World Series last October the famous Budweiser Clydesdale horses were there to march around the stadium as an opening act. All this is just a fraction of the beer connection in sports. Bud’s not the only high-speed beer on wheels: look out for Coors!

These are some of the things that may have contributed to Chris Mullin’s problem, according to one theory. But is beer killing American sport? Few have suggested this, not, at least, since the Cleveland Indians discontinued their ten-cent-beer night when rioting broke out and mass arrests caused the forfeiture of a game in 1974. Now that the Olympics are rolling around, though, what about our young and impressionable amateur athletes? Right now they’re prepping at Olympic training centers sponsored solely by Miller Beer (formerly known as Miller High Life). Charity is commendable, but let us remember that when Chris Mullin represented the United States on the Olympic team in 1984, his slogan, which he found on a barroom wall, was “If the beer is cold, we’ll win the gold.” And it was and they did.

We may not hear much about these concerns until after the Olympics, because the American Olympic movement is totally dependent on the support of commerce. (The competition, it would seem, is for the most part state supported, at least behind the Generic Product Curtain.) Generally the Olympic supporting products seem to be fairly harmless, and sometimes their involvement seems rather amusing. Snickers candy bars and Hostess Twinkies, for example, were official snack foods of our teams at the last Olympiad, while McDonalds was the official fast-service restaurant. I don’t recall any official slow-service restaurants, but there was an official toilet paper, and many other things one rarely thinks of as official. I was surprised to learn, for example, that Fish Ahoy was the official cat food of the U.S. Olympic team, and I hoped that there was no sinister aspect to this news, such as the cat put being introduced as a field sport.

This method of funding might have some silly, tasteless, even embarrassing moments, but somehow it all seems worth it. It seems like the American way. And if a few athletes get hooked on the suds along the way, well who’s to say that they wouldn’t have hoisted a few too many anyway, even if they hadn’t been barraged with messages linking beer to athletic accomplishments.

At this Olympiad our athletes’ urine, blood, and who knows what else will be under intense scrutiny from teams of scientists checking for all manner of drugs and illicit exogenous hormones. Presumably traces of beer, monosodium glutamate, and Food and Drug Admin.–approved dyes and preservatives will be tolerated. But athletes, this Bud’s still for you, at least until 1992.

Glenn O’Brien is a writer who lives in Brooklyn. He Contributes this column regularly to Artforum.