Editorial: Vodka Samm's only a symptom


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Despite the fact that the Aug. 31 loss to Northern Illinois University was Iowa’s first season-opening loss in more than the decade, the game was overshadowed by a particularly rowdy Iowa fan whose drunken antics at Kinnick have made her an Internet sensation.

The story of a 22-year-old student known best today as Vodka Samm, arrested Aug. 31 for trying to run on the field and subsequently delivered a stratospheric blood-alcohol reading, was picked up by a number of prominent outlets including Deadspin, the New York Post, and the UK’s Daily Mail.

That this story achieved international attention over the weekend is, of course, unfortunate.

Around here, the discussion about Vodka Samm has naturally descending into a great deal of hand wringing. Is this case indicative of the broader culture at the University of Iowa? Has this case reaffirmed in the mind of the public Iowa’s top-party-school designation?

Is it appropriate to devote so much attention to an isolated incident of incredible rowdiness?

In these respects, the strange case of Vodka Samm is pretty confounding. But while we believe it’s inappropriate to generalize about the UI’s culture based on this single story, there are a few truths that may be gleaned from all this.

It is undeniable that the culture that surrounds our football watching is dangerous. For every band of tailgaters that escapes Kinnick unscathed, there are others who inevitably wind up with a ticket, in jail, or seeking medical attention.

On Aug. 31, according to the UI police’s game-day arrest data, university police issued 40 citations — almost entirely for PAULA or possessing an open container of alcohol in public. UI police also arrested 14 individuals — some students, others game-day visitors — mostly for public intoxication.

Officials at Kinnick responded to 48 calls for medical attention on Aug. 31, and the Kinnick Stadium first-aid station treated approximately 100 people. It is unclear, however, how many of these calls and first-aid visits were alcohol-related.

These numbers are striking but not at all atypical of a football Saturday.  The UI police issued more than 100 citations and arrested more than 20 people at Iowa’s home-opener against Iowa State last year.

This year and last year, many of the people arrested for public intoxication had blood alcohol levels two or three times the legal limit to drive. And these are just the people who got caught.

As for the question of how the viral ascendance of Vodka Samm might affect the University of Iowa’s reputation, we’re none too concerned. Granted, this story packs a punch on the heels of the Princeton Review’s declaration that the UI is the nation’s top party school, but the legend of Vodka Samm will fade in short order, as has every Internet phenomenon before her.

What will last, however, is the drinking culture that spawns a flurry of tickets, arrests, and hospital trips on six or seven Saturdays every year. The unfortunate truth is that Vodka Samm isn’t the problem but merely a symptom.

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