Tyrades! By Danny Tyree
“Watching guys spit in the dugouts is not exactly a great thing to watch.”
Those understated words are the opinion of Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig, who hopes to see a ban on smokeless tobacco in the next MLB contract. This is partly an image thing but mostly an effort to end the cycle of players tacitly glamorizing tobacco for the impressionable youngsters who idolize them. (The Centers for Disease Control report that in 2009, 15 percent of high school boys used smokeless tobacco – up more than one-third since 2003).
Frankly, it’s ridiculous that we grown-ups have tolerated the situation this long – subsidizing ballparks with tax dollars, buying tickets, and purchasing pay-per-view games, all while the players cheerfully corrupt our youth. That’s like going to an overpriced French restaurant and scarfing down the snails while the maitre d’ teaches your teens how to make a fake ID.
Tobacco has been a part of professional baseball since its inception. Various estimates suggest roughly one-third of major leaguers still use some form of tobacco. And they hate to give up this tradition. (Baseball has many proud traditions, but purists will fight just as fiercely for the “not proud BUT…” traditions.) Maybe we could go really retro and let the players subsist on pre-union wages. I’ll bet their attitude would quickly change from misty-eyed nostalgia to “Hellooooo, 21st Century!”
Smokeless tobacco has been shown to contribute to oral cancer, tooth decay, gum disease, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, nicotine addiction, diminished sense of taste and smell and cancers of the esophagus, larynx, stomach, bladder and pancreas. Smokeless tobacco used to be thought of as benign (using the same logic that smokeless rattlesnakes, smokeless cyanide and smokeless blunt objects were so harmless), but it’s time to face reality. We’ve gone from the era of the Big Red Machine to the era of the Big White Ambulance.
True, some players and fans act as though it’s downright un-American to bring up disturbing health facts and the responsibilities of players as role models. Nonetheless, the ban is promoted by the AMERICAN Academy of Pediatrics, the AMERICAN Cancer Society, the AMERICAN Medical Association and Oral Health AMERICA. I don’t know what else the supporters want, unless it’s John Philip Sousa rising from the grave to smack a designated spitter with a spittoon.
Many players are open to the idea of restricting dips and chews, but one firebrand indignantly declared, “We’re all adults here, albeit adults with wintergreen pacifiers. I can make my own decisions. I don’t need anybody telling me what to do – except my publicist and my personal shopper and my broker and …”
Defenders of the status quo are aghast that anyone would suggest stopping players from using legal products, but surely we still need SOME rules and regulations. Otherwise there will be clashes of legal products. (“Hey, teammate, could you move your Winnebago out of the infield? It’s blocking the TV camera’s view of me using my breast pump!”)
Selig needs to stand firm on the tobacco issue (contracts expire quietly, but players expire gasping and wheezing), provide tobacco cessation programs and send the right message to the next generation of players.
Let’s give our players and their young fans some “extra innings” of life.
Copyright 2011 Danny Tyree. Danny welcomes reader e-mail responses at firstname.lastname@example.org and visits to his Facebook fan page “Tyree’s Tyrades”. Danny’s’ weekly column is distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons Inc. newspaper syndicate. For info on using columns, please email Cari Dawson Bartley at email@example.com or call 800 696 7561.