Letter to the Editor

Baseball without tobacco?

Like all baseball fans, I was saddened to learn of the death of Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn in June, and I followed closely the outcry from fans and the sporting world for Major League Baseball to ban smokeless tobacco use among players. I thought it would be a great idea, but would never happen … smokeless tobacco is just a part of the game, right?

So imagine my surprise when my ESPN text alert the week of the MLB All Star Game said the commissioner of baseball and the players association were aiming to eliminate smokeless tobacco use in baseball.

MLB has made some efforts to curb smokeless tobacco use among players, like banning its use in the minor leagues, not providing dip to players, and not allowing tobacco use during interviews. But can professional baseball survive without tobacco, something that seems to have been married to the game as long as anyone can remember? I think yes, and it would be for the best.

Players like Stephen Strasburg of the Nationals and Addison Reed of the Diamondbacks have publicly come out to say they are kicking their tobacco habits because of Gwynn’s death. But if baseball can ban the use of smokeless tobacco, future generations of baseball players, from high school through the pros, may not have to quit – because they never started.

Kids want to do everything their favorite players do – from wearing the same cleats and copying their batting stance, to using (or simulating the use of) smokeless tobacco. The tobacco industry already spends millions of dollars marketing smokeless tobacco as grown up and manly; kids don’t need to have that message reinforced by their favorite baseball players. Already here in Oklahoma, 21.2 percent of male high school students – more than one in five – use smokeless tobacco.

A ban on smokeless tobacco in professional baseball would not only benefit the health and well-being of current players, but also that of future generations of baseball players at all levels. I commend the commissioner and the players association for even approaching the subject and look forward to seeing what the outcomes are during their next collective bargaining.

Jenny Kellbach

Tobacco Prevention Coordinator, Canadian County