The ties between smokeless tobacco and baseball run deep. The immortal Babe Ruth claimed Pinch Hit was his chew of choice (as this short film from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reminds us). Now, World Series-winning pitcher Curt Schilling, who revealed in June that his cancer was in remission but didn’t say what kind of cancer it was, has announced that it is oral cancer. He blames the cancer on his 30 years of chewing tobacco.
The June death of Hall-of-Famer Tony Gwynn served as a reminder of the dangers posed by the habit. Gwynn said he believed the salivary gland cancer that killed him was caused by his longtime use of chewing tobacco.
National, state and local health organizations used the story of Gwynn’s passing to talk about the dangers of smokeless tobacco and likely will use Schilling’s news to raise awareness. Is there an angle in this that you could explore in your own state or community?
Mary Otto, AHCJ’s core topic leader on oral health, has written a tip sheet that includes links to studies on the connections between smokeless tobacco and cancer, where Major League Baseball and the players stand on eliminating chewing tobacco from the sport and more information you can use when reporting on the almost inevitable awareness campaigns. Read it now…
San Diego Padres’ great Tony Gwynn died June 16 from cancer of the salivary gland.
He blamed his cancer on his use of smokeless tobacco throughout his 20-year career. Now other players and officials are taking a look at the addiction’s deep and enduring grip on the sport.
“Smokeless kills,” wrote the Boston Globe’s Dan Shaughnessy in a June 18 story. “And yet big league ballplayers, coaches and managers still use smokeless tobacco. It’s a baseball thing, and it’s killing players, and many don’t want to stop. Or they can’t stop.”
It has all the fixings of a front-page health narrative – the handsome baseball star, the stunning neurological condition, the virtuoso brain surgeon and the arduous, improbable comeback – but Charlie Pierce’s piece in The Boston Globe Magazine is remarkable not for these stuff-of-legend elements, but for the mundane ones.
From how his first symptoms affected top prospect Ryan Westmoreland’s ability to gun down the bad dudes in “Call of Duty” to how he spent a week practicing stair climbing before he could board the Red Sox owner’s private plane, Pierce nails the niggling medical realities that drive this profile home. I could recap the highlights, but this is a case where the value lies in the storytelling as much as in the story.
Calling Major League Baseball a “longtime fortress against psychiatry” Sports Illustrated‘s Pablo S. Torre profiles the organization’s recent efforts to go from an organization notorious for its lack of crying to one which takes the mental health of its players very seriously.
… baseball has led the way in supporting a growing number of players who have been brave enough to seek assistance for such problems and speak out about them. “Baseball’s older generations like to say, ‘Guys these days just aren’t as tough,'” says Ray Karesky, a licensed psychologist who has directed the Oakland A’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP) since 1984. “But what’s different is just that guys have come out and actually admitted their problems.”
Baseball, with its high failure rates (a great hitter still fails two out of every three at-bats), spotlight on individual performance, substantial downtime and long nights on the road, is loaded with mental health stressors. But it’s only now, thanks to the “cover” provided by those few major leaguers bold enough to come forward with their problems, that players at all levels are comfortable enough to address mental health. The revolution began last year, when an unprecedented five big leaguers went on the disabled list for mental health problems — so-called “mental DLs.”
This number isn’t anywhere close to those reported for the general population—the National Institute of Mental Health estimates that 26.2% of Americans ages 18 and older suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in any given year—but for baseball it represents a sea change: Between 1972 and ’91 the grand total of mental DLs in the major leagues was zero.