Section Yellow offers sober Green Bay Packers fans an ‘oasis’ in a sea of ​​game-day booze

John Plageman likes the Grateful Dead and Phish.

Around 2009 — about three or four months of sobriety — he wanted to attend a Phish reunion show. But he knew the jam band scene was filled with drugs and alcohol. It weighed on him. How could he continue to have fun while staying sober?

Then Plageman found his way to The Phellowship, a group of sober Phish fans. He started volunteering with the group a few years later. Fast forward to a Phish show at Alpine Valley in East Troy in 2019 and it clicked – how could he get something similar at Lambeau Field for Green Bay Packers?

“It’s such a simple idea,” he said on Wisconsin Public Radio’s “Central Time” recently. “But it has such a strong impact and such great support because there’s a ton of Packer fans who are sober and won’t go to the games because of the booze culture.”

The Yellow Section now has more than 1,200 members in its Facebook group. Volunteers sat at a table near Sections 110 and 112 in the stadium lobby. They hand out stickers that say “one game at a time,” a nod to the common phrase in recovery, “one day at a time.”

The group first attended games in 2020, but Tom Doughman, assistant director of counseling and psychology services at St. Norbert College, said they had to pay for two tickets each game.

In the 2021 season, the Packers recognized the group as a charity that could instead get two byes for every game.

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Doughman said the group has a strong contingent of people who are sober or supportive of someone else who is.

“It’s nice to have an oasis in a place where you’re surrounded by people having a good time — and sometimes having way too much fun,” Doughman said on “Central Time.” “Just to know that someone else has your back and recognizes that you’re doing something that may not be the norm, but it’s supported.”

In Wisconsin, cities typically fill out national “drunkest” lists in the country. In January, the Wisconsin Policy Forum reported that 2020 had seen the largest year-over-year increase in alcohol-related deaths in more than 20 years. A 2019 report found the state had a higher rate of binge drinking than the entire United States. That same report showed that Brown County, where Green Bay is located, had an even higher rate of binge drinking than the state average.

“It’s kind of a unique situation where you can be in the middle of this culture where it’s really normal to have one or five drinks in the evening,” said Doughman, who has been sober for 40 years since last month.

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Normally, Plageman said, about 20 people come per game. But in the Packers’ recent overtime win over the New England Patriots, he said more than 60 people stopped at the table.

“It’s starting to roll and pick up foam,” he said.

Doughman said the table in the yellow section was near the kiosk where people were handing out free water or coffee as part of a designated driver program. For the 2021 fall football season, the program has moved to a digital rewards system via a QR code.

Doughman said the Yellow Section offered to take over the program and distribute water, but the Packers respectfully declined. Aaron Popkey, director of public affairs for the Packers, said the team is pleased the Yellow Section is providing support to fans who need it.

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Ultimately, the yellow section is about community. Sometimes sobriety in Wisconsin can feel like being alone on an island. As Plageman said, “Just know that you are not alone.”

“It’s almost like a spiritual connection,” he said. “We can still listen to music. We can still go to Packer games and cheer just as loud.”

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