Tony Gwynn, one of the great pure hitters in Major League Baseball history, lost his battle with cancer last week. The cancer, he says, was the result of years of chewing tobacco, a practice that has been part of baseball since it’s very beginning. MLB has been discouraging the use of smokeless tobacco for years because it is known to increase the chance of cancer. And while the use by players has been in decline there are many who haven’t been able to kick the habit. Addison Reed of the Cincinnati Reds was one of those who kept telling himself he would quit, soon. The slap to the head for him came with Gwynn’s passing, it finally brought home the reality of what could happen because of his habit.
First Think, Then Think Again. Easy enough to say but the reality is we don’t usually do the hard work of thinking through issues. We shortcut the process to come to the conclusion we want to reach regardless of how the facts stack up in an argument. Then there is the problem of actually going through the process of analyzing a situation, really trying but in the end making the wrong decision. If you read the articles I have linked you will see that there is nothing new here, just guys who have made a decision and nothing that is said can change their behavior until an event becomes the trigger that makes change possible for them. That trigger for some is the birth of a child, a death such as Gwynn’s or even a dream.
This isn’t a screed against the use of smokeless tobacco, unlike the editorial board of the Modesto Bee which wrote that, “We MUST Snuff Out Smokeless Tobacco Use“. They call this a teachable moment which it is, and hopefully will open more eyes and save others from the suffering from cancer that can be a result of a nasty habit. Of course it is a legal product and untold numbers of people have dipped and enjoyed it from childhood without becoming a cancer victim. We are all different and what makes me happy may not do anything for you. Obviously I am a little “prissy” for others, I watch an outfielder chewing and spitting all game long and the chance of him succumbing to cancer doesn’t bother me as much as the idea of the other outfielder having to make a head long dive for a screaming line drive and winding up getting tobacco juice, spit, on him. That is plain nasty.
Many of us suffer from bad habits and just don’t have the necessary motivation or will power to escape. Many of us have bad habits and thoroughly enjoy every moment of them despite any negative consequences. The power of thought is amazing, we can convince ourselves what is good is bad, and what is bad is good and leave me alone it is of your business what I like to do. It is never easy to make others do the right thing even though I know very well what you need to be doing. However, culture can be changed to advance public health, is the conclusion of Robin Silverstein of the University of Minnesota in her great presentation, Smokeless Tobacco and Baseball.
Rest in peace, Tony Gwynn and condolences to your family. May your story be the trigger that helps others possibly avoid something so avoidable.