Ohio is a different place when football season is in full swing! Whether you’re hanging out in the Dawg Pound with the Browns, asking “Who dey think gonna beat dem Bengals?” or cheering your favorite college team on to victory (the Buckeyes are 3-0!), there’s one thing every football fan can agree on: tailgating.
What’s not to love? Good food, good friends, and good football make for a good time. Of course, a run-in with the police or a surprise injury can put a damper on even the most boisterous tailgate. We put together this little guide to help you celebrate legally and safely this season.
Ohio has an open container law that prohibits possessing an open container of alcohol in a car or in public. That means it’s illegal to drink in public parking lots and on public streets – even for tailgating. You may have heard that putting your beverages in a Solo cup will protect you, but that’s not the case. It’s still an open container of alcohol and it’s still illegal even if there’s no visible label.
The good news is that it’s not necessarily illegal to drink at your tailgate. If the parking lot is private, you’re not bound by the state or municipal open container laws. In general, a private lot is one on private property that you have to pay to park in. If the lot is private, you just have to worry about the lot owner’s policy, which may or may not allow alcohol. For example, Paul Brown Stadium, home of the Bengals, allows open containers on all of the stadium-owned lots.
Some private lots do expressly prohibit alcohol. For example, according to Ohio State’s guidelines, “open containers are not allowed at any tailgating events.” A representative with the Cleveland Browns informed us that alcohol is prohibited at all the tailgating lots around FirstEnergy stadium, many of which are owned by the city and so count as “public.”
Of course, if you’ve ever been to a tailgate you know that open containers are very common regardless of the rules. Many fans report that police will not enforce the law as long as no one is fighting, breaking things, or otherwise being disruptive. Some officers will also request that drinks be put in solo cups. Remember – that doesn’t make it legal, just easier for the cops to ignore.
If you are cited for an open container violation, it’s a minor misdemeanor offense with a fine of $150. It is possible to be arrested for a minor misdemeanor, but you’re more likely to just get a ticket.
No matter where you are, it’s illegal to drink alcohol if you’re under the age of 21. Possession of alcohol, when you’re under 21, is called “Underage Consumption” and is a 1st degree misdemeanor. You can be fined up to $1,000 and spend up to 180 days in jail for it. Providing alcohol to minors is also illegal and can cost you up to $1,000 and up to 180 days in jail.
In addition, many schools have policies on underage alcohol consumption and you may risk loss of your housing privileges or even expulsion. It’s just not worth it.
All football stadiums have policies prohibiting fighting and other disruptive activities. You may be thrown out of the game for breaking the rules. The law also prohibits fighting and damaging property. You may be cited for assault and battery, disturbing the peace, and other offenses. If you’re drinking, you may be cited for public intoxication and violation of open container laws. In some cases, that can mean an arrest on the spot with fines and jail time.
Sober or otherwise, tailgating involves certain safety risks. What can you do to keep your tailgate as safe as possible?
Whether you’re grilling with propane or charcoal, make sure to keep the grill well-ventilated and out of people’s way to avoid burns from smoke or a hot grill. You should always have a fire extinguisher on hand just in case. By the same token, you should always bring a first-aid kit.
After the game, make sure to dispose of your charcoal properly to avoid fires. Make sure it’s completely out – don’t just leave the grill to die down as you head into the game. Many stadiums offer coal disposal receptacles, so take advantage of them.
Coolers aren’t just for beer. Make sure you keep everything that needs to be refrigerated in a cooler with ice or ice packs. Cheese, meat, eggs, and condiments should be kept cool while not in use. Even a short time outside the cooler can allow dangerous bacteria to grow.
We’re not just talking about your cheers. While a dirty chant makes your party family unfriendly, dirty food can make it downright dangerous. Keep raw meat completely separate from cooked meat and the rest of your food. Make sure you thoroughly clean any surfaces that have been in contact with raw meat before putting anything else down on them – think cutting boards, tables, plates, platters, and more. Paper plates, plastic wrap, and sanitizing wipes can make cleanup easier.
Raw meat isn’t the only danger – undercooked meat carries the same risks of serious infections. Bring a meat thermometer to make sure your food is cooked thoroughly enough to be safe. In general, chicken needs the hottest internal temp – 180°F. Ground meats (such as burgers) and pork chops need to hit at least 160°F. Steaks can stay a little cooler at 145°F.
Remember that children, elderly people, and pregnant people are at higher risk for infection. Experts recommend that these groups have all their meats well done.
Always choose a designated driver. One sober person should be able to drive in case of emergencies at all times. You’ll also need to designate enough drivers to get everyone home safely after the game. Driving in a crowded parking lot is a pain, so plan for plenty of time to get in and out of the lot. Nobody wants to deal with an accident on game day.
Remember to check ahead for game day traffic changes and make sure you know how you’re getting home.
Even when the weather starts to cool off, you’re at risk for sunburns after a long day spent tailgating and going to a game. Bring plenty of sunscreen and reapply every hour. Consider bringing a canopy to your tailgate to provide shade.
That many hours outside is also a recipe for dehydration, especially if you’re drinking alcohol. Bring lots of water and make sure to drink it regularly. That will protect you from heat stroke and can also help ward off a post-game hangover!
Whatever your team, we hope you have a safe, legal, and fun season! May the best team win!
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