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Sports stars' drinking habits don't influence others

April 22, 2010 |  8:20 am
Sports stars are greatly admired in the United States and many other countries, which raises the question of whether fans may try to emulate their behavior. That could be a problem when you think about the high-profile sports figures whose behavior is abominable. On Wednesday, the National Football League commissioner suspended Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for violating the league's personal conduct policy (a result of a recent allegation of sexual assault in a bar).
Ben A new study, however, concludes that sports stars' behavior has no effect on the drinking habits of young people. Researchers in the United Kingdom and Australia polled more than 1,000 young people on how they perceive the drinking behavior of sports stars compared with their friends'. They were also asked to report their own drinking patterns. The poll included both athletes and people uninterested in sports.
Researchers found that both the sporting and non-sporting people both thought their friends probably drank significantly more than themselves and that sports stars probably drank significantly less. Overestimating the amount another person, such as a peer or role model, drinks has been shown to influence heavier drinking. Thus, in this study, young people appeared to be more influenced by their perceptions of how much their friends drink.
"Sports administrators, like the Football Association, are very quick to condemn and punish individual sport stars for acting as poor role models when they are caught displaying drunken and loutish behavior," the lead author of the study, Dr. Kerry O'Brien of the University of Manchester, said in a news release. "But there is much stronger evidence for a relationship between alcohol-industry sponsorship, advertising and marketing within sport and hazardous drinking among young people than there is for the influence of sports stars drinking."
Sports stars shouldn't be encouraged to behave like drunken fools, but neither should they be blamed for setting a bad example, O'Brien said. Instead, he said, it's the marketing of alcohol surrounding sports events that should be addressed. The study was published online Wednesday in the journal Drug and Alcohol Review.
-- Shari Roan
Photo: A fan wearing a Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger jersey holds up a sign while attending the baseball game between the Milwaukee Brewers and the Pittsburgh Pirates in Pittsburgh on Wednesday. The NFL announced the decision to suspend Roethlisberger for six games in the 2010 season for violating the NFL personal-conduct policy. Credit: Keith Srakocic  /  Associated Press