There has been increasing pressure from anti-tobacco groups — and Congress — on Major League Baseball to do something about smokeless tobacco use by major leaguers. To date, baseball has merely acknowledged that it’s and issue, noted that it’s already banned at minor league parks and has made mention of the fact that doing anything with tobacco is a matter of collective bargaining.
That changed yesterday, when Commissioner Selig took a position on the matter:
In a letter to the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids on Thursday, Selig told the group’s president he believes “smokeless tobacco should be banned at the Major League level … In the current round of bargaining with the MLBPA, MLB will propose restrictions on the use of smokeless tobacco at the Major League level comparable to the restrictions in place at the Minor League level,” Selig wrote.
This comes two days after top public health officials in 15 Major League Baseball cities sent a letter to Selig and the Major League Baseball Players Association asking them to ban tobacco use by players, managers, coaches and other staff at major league ballparks. And it comes at a time when smokeless tobacco use among high school boys has seen a 36 percent increase in the past eight years. According to the CDC, 15 percent of high school boys currently use smokeless tobacco.
I’m usually the last guy who will respond to “think of the children” appeals and I am a strong advocate of letting grownups do what they damn well please. But I think allowing ballplayers to dip and chew while they’re at the ballpark is something that has to end. It does nothing to enhance the game. Kids see that an take their use as tacit approval. It’s really, really dangerous to ballplayers’ health. Oh, and it’s totally disgusting too. Viva principle, but in this case, a ballplayer’s personal freedom is outweighed by the factors that demand it be curtailed, at least during working hours.
Hard to say if the union fights this. Their impulse probably would normally be to do so, and I get why that is. But the last time principle trumped sense when it came to negotiations regarding substances used by ballplayers it led to unchecked steroids use which, in my view, was one of the few if only times the MLBPA did a disservice to its membership, both from a PR perspective and from the perspective of the players’ actual best interests.
Use Selig’s call for a smokeless tobacco ban to extract something else you want, Michael Weiner, because I realize that’s how these things work. But ultimately, agree to a ban on smokeless tobacco on ballpark premises. It’s the right thing to do.