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Curt Schilling blames chewing tobacco for the cancer of his mouth that has put him through a living hell the past several months. Tony Gwynn blamed chewing tobacco for the cancer of his mouth that ultimately led to his early death.
Will these two high profile stories have a wider impact? Will young athletes, especially those who play baseball, finally dump the chew for their own good? My guess is yes and no.
Just as smoking has become less fashionable as the dangers to long-term health became undeniable, so, too, has chewing tobacco. So, yes, I believe some young players will take these examples to heart.
But, no, it's not going to stop everyone. It's not going to stop those who inevitably think, at 16 or 17, "It won't happen to me."
Everyone makes choices. Everyone makes bad choices; that's part of life. And those who choose to smoke or chew tobacco do so with at the very least cursory knowledge of the risks.
“I do believe, without a doubt, unquestionably, that chewing was what gave me cancer,” Schilling, the former Boston Red Sox pitcher, told the WEEI/NESN Jimmy Fund Radio Telethon on Wednesday. “I'm not going to sit up here from the pedestal and preach about chewing.”
Assuming Schilling is right about the source of his cancer, and it's a logical deduction based on 30 years of chewing tobacco, he doesn't need to preach. His life is the audio-visual lesson.
There's no way to listen to, or read, Schilling's comments and not want to avoid his fate. The radiation was extremely painful, he has lost his taste and smell and he has no saliva. His cancer is in remission, but a price in quality of life has been paid.
There's no way to see former San Diego Padres great Gwynn die at age 54 of salivary gland cancer and not want to avoid his fate. It's possible Gwynn could have developed the mouth cancer without using tobacco, but tobacco use has the potential to lead to various health issues.
So why not believe these examples, and others, will put the use of chewing tobacco to rest?
Two reasons: Free will and addiction.
You're 16 and offered some chew and you're invincible in your own mind. You know about Gwynn and Schilling but, frankly, anyone over 40 is ancient so why worry about something so far away? Plus, you're only going to try it once, or use it occasionally. You tell yourself you know better than to do it for 25 or 30 years like those old ballplayers.
Then, in that sneaky move that is nicotine's trademark, you get hooked. I've never smoked or chewed, but I've been around people who have been hooked. Many, if not most, of them want to quit. But once you're hooked, it's the monkey that can't be shaken off your back without a knock-down, drag-out fight.
Acceptable behaviors can change over time and chewing tobacco seems well on the road to going out of style. But as long as the temptation is there, young people will forget the lessons of those who went before them.
Some people were surprised this past spring when a local high school baseball player was suspended for the year for possessing and using chewing tobacco. I encountered a number of people who thought the offense was rather minor and the punishment extreme.
Schilling would argue, as would Gwynn if he were still here, that deciding to use tobacco is far from a minor decision. It can be life changing.