|Tony Gwynn's death sheds a light on tobacco use in baseball.|
A few years back it was announced that Gwynn was battling throat cancer. The cause? Years and years of chewing tobacco.
For the past 15 years, the focus in Major League Baseball has been on the use of performance enhancing drugs. It has been on the hallowed records in the game that are threatened by players who are willing to risk their health and their their reputation for the chance to play well enough to earn a multi-million dollar, life changing contract.
Remember the commercial that Major League Baseball would air that showed a statue breaking down and pointing to steroids as the reason for that? It was a strong push to get kids who might think that using steroids was a good idea to realize that it would ultimately break their bodies down.
For years the players union fought any drug testing. However, things changed in 2002 when the players allowed random, anonymous tests that would determine whether or not a full-blown testing system was necessary. It turned out that it was, and since then, the testing and punishment for use has been continually getting tougher.
Every year, Bud Selig is quick to talk about how great the testing system is. He allows the pats on the back as he announces that Major League Baseball has the toughest policy against performance enhancing drugs of any major sport in America. Baseball is clean. That is the message that Selig tries to send.
Meanwhile, look in any Major League dugout and watch out where you step. Walk to the on-deck circle and see the stains surrounding the area. Walk to the plate and avoid the brown spots along the way. Major League Baseball players are quick to load up their lips and cheeks with their tobacco. Something that is just as dangerous, and far more prevalent than steroids has been openly used in Major League clubhouses and dugouts for years.
The tobacco that baseball players load their mouths with is exactly what cut Tony Gwynn's life short. He may have been able to fight off a pitch on his hands and drive it to the opposite field, but he couldn't fight off the urge to load another dip into his lip before, during and after every game. The result of his decision is missing out on his son's Major League career, missing out on time with possible grandchildren, and being around to see other players try to catch him on the all-time hit's list. Gwynn was just 54-years-old.
Major League Baseball pats itself on the back for sending the right message to the kids who watch the game, but they are missing the most obvious influence that Major Leaguers are sending the kids who are watching them. Don't believe it? Look in almost any high school or college dugout. Tobacco use is banned at all levels of college baseball, and is certainly not allowed in high school. However, it's use is extremely prominent. Many times umpires don't say anything about it because they too have a wad of chew in their mouths.
Think how strange it is that Major Leaguers chew tobacco on the field. Imagine Peyton Manning barking out "Omaha" then taking a second to spit the brown saliva from his mouth before he received the ball from center. Imagine if before shooting a free throw, Ty Lawson ran to the sideline to find a trashcan to spit some tobacco juice into. It doesn't make any sense that baseball players are still allowed to chew tobacco on the field. The only reason that it is permissible is because players have been doing it since the turn of the century, and not this century.
The influence of tobacco has been far more of an influence in young people's lives than steroids. The ability to get tobacco is far easier for young people to get than steroids.
Major League Baseball has sent the message that steroids are terrible and that they won't stand for their players using them. However, they are quick to turn a blind eye to something that is not only a bad influence on the future generations of baseball players, but also to something that is literally killing the players right now.
It is time for Major League Baseball to take a stand on the use of tobacco in the dugout and on the field. It is time for them to fight a battle that means far more than the war on steroids that they have been fighting. If a high profile death like Tony Gwynn doesn't show the importance, nothing will.
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