Following the death of major league baseball (MLB) player Tony Gwynn, America’s favorite pastime is about to get a loud wake-up call. At the age of 54, Gwynn lost his life to salivary gland cancer, allegedly caused by his long-term use of chewing tobacco. Tony played Right Field for the San Diego Padres for 19 years, retiring in 2001. Gwynn was a recipient of several different awards such as the Golden Glove Award, Clemente Award, and most prominently, the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Tony was just one of many major league players that have been using chewing tobacco since early in their professional careers. According to the American Cancer Society, one in three major league baseball players use smokeless tobacco. Throughout the regular season there can be as many as 12,000 players in the MLB—meaning more than 400 players may be televised using chewing tobacco! For many Americans, major league players are iconized role models; if people go as far to purchase pricey official jerseys and get tattoos, who is to say they wouldn’t explore their hero’s smokeless tobacco habit as well?
National health initiatives have recently seen success in stigmatizing cigarettes; it was estimated in 2013 that national media campaigns have helped more than 100,000 American’s quit the habit. But what is this 100,000 compared to the number of baseball fans who have taken to chewing tobacco? If mere commercials could help 100,000 Americans quit the habit, imagine how many would be positively influenced if the nation’s most revered athletes started leading campaigns?
It might be unlikely that the MLB will start campaigning against tobacco use, but if MLB athletes don’t start letting up on the dip, America’s favorite pastime might become America’s most cancerous pastime.
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