The use of smokeless tobacco has long been intertwined with the history and culture of baseball. Tobacco spit mixes with the shells of sunflower seeds and bubblegum wrappers on the floors of dugouts throughout Major League Baseball. It remains present in the minor leagues and in college baseball, even though it is banned in both of these arenas.
Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig is now calling on the Players’ Union and owners to agree to ban the use of smokeless tobacco products in the Major Leagues. No one seems to dispute the health risks of these products; and few disagree that it does not present a good image of baseball players for youngsters who see it on TV and when they attend games in person.
Even so, there is not great support among players for Selig’s proposal. “Come on, that’s a joke,” San Francisco Giants’ relief pitcher Jeremy Affeldt says. “They don’t monitor food in the clubhouse, and some of the (stuff) we eat isn’t good for you. I know there’s a lot of impressionable minds out there, and we have a responsibility, but still. Whatever we do is not going to keep smokeless tobacco from being sold. Does it cause the body harm? Yes. But we are grown men. They have to make their own decision”.
Use of smokeless tobacco products has been linked to various forms of cancer, tooth decay, gum disease, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and nicotine addiction. Thousands of people die each year in the U.S. from ailments linked to its use.
Baseball’s relationship with tobacco goes back to the game’s roots. The term “bullpen” can be traced back to Bull Durham tobacco. Baseball cards of players were originally packaged with cigarette packs. Players chewed to generate saliva on dusty ball fields. The spitball was banned from baseball in 1920; before that time the lubricant of choice was tobacco juice.
It has only been in the last twenty years or so that the dangers of smokeless tobacco use have become widely known, even though the Surgeon General’s office first issued warnings about cigarette use in 1964. Current estimates are than nearly one-third of all Major League players use some kind of smokeless tobacco.
This is obviously an issue of concern for sports management at various levels of the sport of baseball. To read a detailed report on this topic see the recent story found in USA Today.
Health and sport are related issues that are studied at the United States Sports Academy. The Academy also teaches courses on contemporary issues in sports and on the interplay between ethics and sports. For more information please go to http://ussa.edu.