Major League Baseball Players have a Basic Agreement that spells out what is expected of them and management during the course of the contractual period. The current basic agreement, which expires in 2016, has 28 articles with 46 attachments on over 300 pages. In the final third of the contract, nestled between the ‘alcohol-related conduct’ and the ‘weapon-free workplace policy’ is Attachment 28, two pages dealing with the smokeless tobacco policy.
The policy doesn’t prohibit the use of smokeless tobacco by players. They just aren’t supposed to use it during interviews, must conceal it, and “may not carry it in their uniform or on their body.” Does a lip of chew in the mouth count for “on the body?” According to the Player’s contract, joint education materials will be created for the Players and distributed during Spring Training. Educational materials will also be created as a public service announcement for radio outlets, websites, and during broadcasts. Exactly how strong of a deterrent will a PSA be for young kids when this seems to be a case of “do as we say, not as we do?” Perhaps the two biggest deterrents for using smokeless tobacco happened this year, first with Tony Gwynn and now with Curt Schilling.
Tony Gwynn admits using a can and a half of chew a day from the time he was first in the majors. Strike one happened in 1991 when he first noticed a growth in his right cheek. He even figured it was from using smokeless tobacco. Biopsy results came back negative, but the experience didn’t stop him for reaching for a dip on his way home from surgery, a testament to how strong his addiction to nicotine was. In 2001 he retired from baseball, but didn’t retire his chew habit. He continued it at San Diego State when he become head coach in 2002, even when the NCAA adopted a zero-tolerance tobacco policy. Strike two happened in 2007 when another growth was found and another biopsy was performed. His luck held as the biopsy was negative.
In 2010 that luck ran out when a third growth, in the same spot as the others, was discovered. This time it was bad. It required not only surgery, but radiation and chemotherapy. The surgery affected a nerve in his face, causing partial paralysis, and making it difficult to eat and smile. But it ended his smokeless tobacco habit. He completed the treatments, went into remission and gained his smile back. Unfortunately, the cancer also came back and more surgery and radiation was required. He passed away in June 2014; he was only 54. Although his doctor claims there is no known link between smokeless tobacco and Tony’s cancer, the ballplayer was adamant it was the cause as he always dipped on the right side, the same side as the cancer.
Now Curt Schilling has come forward with his story of mouth cancer caused by what he believes is his 30 years of using chewing tobacco. Curt said not only did he have bleeding gum issues when using smokeless tobacco, he lost his sense of smell and taste, but it wasn’t enough to make him quit. He had surgery this past year and went into remission in June. Schilling admits he didn’t say something sooner because he didn’t want pity. He also said he didn’t speak up because he didn’t want to get into the chewing tobacco debate, but says it was an addictive habit. He admits it took the pain of his treatment to make him wish he could go back and never have dipped, “not once.”
In light of Tony Gwynn’s death and Curt Schilling’s cancer diagnosis due to years of smokeless tobacco use, the time has come for the MLB to quit discussing the subject and make ballparks smoke-free and tobacco-free workplaces. What are the players going to do, quit? strike? How would that look to the fans, especially the kids when the headlines scream “Players Won’t Play Without Tobacco?” This is not about the rights of grown men to use a legal substance, but about grown men becoming addicts to a substance that takes prisoners and kills some of its users. It’s also about the message sent to the kids who watch and imitate what they see and hear on the field. Right now that message isn’t very good.