Here is a link to my Tuesday column about smokeless tobacco in the big leagues. The full text runs below:
I am against banning smokeless tobacco in the big leagues.
Before I get to my reasons, here’s the background. As you know, Tony Gwynn died last week. Gwynn was a gentleman, a good guy, a stand-up guy, a perfect ambassador for baseball and for human beings in general. And he was among the greatest hitters who ever lived. He died from mouth cancer and he probably got cancer because he chewed tobacco.
He was 54 when he died, way too young. It makes you sad for him and angry at chewing tobacco and dip. Dip is different from leaf tobacco. It is ground up and players insert it under their lower lips. But dip does the same thing as leaf chewing tobacco. It gives players the feeling they want and it can cause cancer in the mouth area. No question: dip and chewing tobacco are bad for you.
Since Gwynn died, many columnists have written articles calling for Major League Baseball to ban leaf tobacco and dip. Other well-meaning folks also have called for a smokeless tobacco ban in the majors. FYI, leaf tobacco and dip already are banned in the minors, but the Major League Baseball Players Association has not agreed to a ban. A ban is a matter of collective bargaining .
Major League Baseball tries hard to educate players against smokeless tobacco. Use of the junky stuff is decreasing. And that’s important. And that’s good. There should be even more education.
And restrictions of smokeless tobacco already exist in the majors. Teams do not provide smokeless tobacco in clubhouses, although teams provide plenty of free bubblegum for players. Players cannot put pouches or tins of smokeless tobacco in the pants pockets of their uniforms when fans are in the stadium or when they are in front of TV cameras. Players cannot chew tobacco during TV interviews. Somehow, I don’t think players always honor these restrictions.
People who argue for a ban use several arguments. Smokeless tobacco is harmful to a user’s health. It is disgusting. It presents a bad image for baseball. Big leaguers are role models for teenagers, and smokeless tobacco users are bad role models. There are probably other compelling arguments I have not mentioned.
I agree with every single argument against smokeless tobacco, but I passionately oppose banning it in the big leagues. I do not smoke tobacco and I do not chew or dip. Never have. This is not a tobacco issue. This is a freedom issue.
I do not like people, even well-meaning people, to infringe on my exercise of free choice. I don’t like people telling me what to do. Plenty of people out there love to tell us how to act. They have our best interests at heart. That’s what they say. Well, get this, I decide what’s in my best interest, thank you.
When Michael Bloomberg was mayor of New York, he tried to pass a law banning sale of sweet soft drinks of more than 16 ounces in restaurants and fast-food joints. His heart was in the right place. His brain wasn’t. Two courts have struck down his law, although the case is still pending.
If I were a New Yorker, I would have told Bloomberg to keep his hands off my big Coke.
I understand baseball banning steroids, human growth hormone and other prescriptions drugs. Getting them without prescriptions is against the law. I believe lots of players — you know who — broke the law to hit home runs.
Smokeless tobacco is not against the law. I seriously object to someone — sports writers, the baseball commissioner — telling me I can’t use something that’s legal.
I understand laws against smoking in restaurants and bars and the workplace. Second-hand smoke harms people near me. To the best of my knowledge, smokeless tobacco does not hurt people near the user. It may disgust them, but it doesn’t hurt them.
And now I’m going to write something hard. People who want to ban smokeless tobacco, the well-meaning banners, are condescending to grown men, acting as if these men are morons. Excuse me, but Tony Gwynn knew what he was doing, knew the risks he took when he chewed. It was his free choice. It also was his free choice to advocate against spit tobacco after he retired.
Dusty Baker knew the risks. It troubled me when he would stick a wad in his mouth — I like him so much.
And smokeless tobacco is not limited to baseball. It’s all over the NFL. Jim Harbaugh knows what he’s doing when he dips. Jim Tomsula knows what he’s doing. Joe Staley knows what he’s doing. I could go on.
Do I wish they’d all stop?
Of course, I do.
Would I order them to stop?
It’s not my business.
For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at cohn.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn at firstname.lastname@example.org.