In the wake of the death of Padres legend, Tony Gwynn, a recent article published in Forbes Magazine raised the question on whether or not chewing tobacco will be banned by Major League Baseball. Gwynn, whom attributed his cheek cancer to his 20 years of using smokeless tobacco, died on Monday morning. While emotions run high throughout the baseball world, now would not be the time to make rash decisions which could affect a large number of professional baseball players.
Smokeless tobacco, known as “dip” or “chew”, has been around the game of baseball since the invention of the game itself. It has become as common as sunflower seeds, the crack of a bat, and hot dogs that line the corridor of ballparks around the country. The dangers, and what can result from years of dipping, has been well documented in the past, but when an iconic figure like Tony Gwynn passes away at the young age of 54 as a result of years of use, the issue well undoubtedly catch fire once again.
While nobody is 100 percent certain that the cancer was the result of the smokeless tobacco, Gwynn was vocal in his belief that dip led to the disease, saying that he always used the product on the right side of his mouth; the side which developed the salivary gland tumor. It is sad when someone is taken from this world early, especially when it is a result of an avoidable outcome, but an attempt at banning the substance may be overreaching some personal boundaries, and before the debate fully ignites, both parties need to take a step back before acting on emotion.
Joe Garagiola Sr. has come forward in the days following the death of the Padres masterful hitter, saying that “I hope it triggers a ban.” In 2011, MLB sought to ban the substance outright, but following disagreements with the MLB Players Association, it was instead decided that smokeless tobacco would not be permitted during pregame and postgame interviews, as well as team functions. At the time, the players decided that an outright ban of the substance would not be appropriate.
While Gwynn’s death further highlights the dangers of chewing tobacco, and other tobacco products, people must not lose sight of the fact that these are grown men playing the game. Yes, it sets a bad example to young fans who watch their idols on the ball field, but banning a substance that is perfectly legal throughout the country and the world, would only infringe on the rights of the players. Recently, studies are showing grave dangers of added sugars and genetically modified foods, but nobody is going to step in and remove chewing gum and sunflower seeds from the dugout.
Perhaps, the best move for MLB would be to turn a tragedy into an opportunity to educate young fans; teach them about the dangers of chewing tobacco, and use the great Tony Gwynn as a learning tool to highlight the dangers. During his 54 years, Gwynn set a great example in class, both on and off of the field, and even in death, he would make for a great spokesperson against the use of the product. Perhaps his family could approve the use of his name and face as the new poster boy for an anti-chewing tobacco campaign in MLB. It would be one giant step toward reducing the number of MLB players who use it, as well as a great opportunity to teach young kids the dangers of the tobacco product. Otherwise, now is not the time to lecture grown men on how they can live their life, and how they can and cannot treat their own bodies. If men are well aware of the risks and dangers, then smokeless tobacco must remain a “use at your own risk,” product, but not something controlled by MLB.
Commentary by Johnny Caito