To chew or not to chew

Rebecca Allen, multimedia editor

0001-207184312Hidden behind America’s favorite pastime, baseball, lies a silent killer: tobacco. Historically, tobacco has been a part of baseball, but its health effects often go unnoticed. Although smokeless tobacco is known to cause cancer and other health defects, a survey by MLB found that 33 percent of players chew tobacco.

“You might as well be smoking cigarettes if you’re chewing tobacco, you’re in risk of the same effects,” senior Garret Henkel said.

Even after Hall-of-Famer Tony Gwynn died of mouth cancer caused by a lifetime of chewing tobacco, the habit persists among all levels of the sport, causing a negative image of players who chew.

“It makes you look down on those players,” junior Mark Scheble said. “It’s something I would never do.”

Despite efforts by educators and players to keep the habit from reaching young players, most pros say they first experimented with tobacco in high school.

“Tobacco is so common in baseball that it’s just part of the fabric of the game,” Henkel said.

Avoiding tobacco in baseball can be hard for aspiring baseball players as many prominent players chew.

“It’s part of the pastime,” Scheble said. “Past players have done it and that makes everybody want to do it to continue the tradition.”

However, continuing the dangerous tradition could mean the end of a baseball career for high school players.

“It’s something that could be serious if we caught it,” athletic director Amanda Waters said.

CIF forbids the use of tobacco products by athletes and coaches by having coaches sign a contract that explains they cannot have drugs or alcohol around kids.

“It hasn’t been a problem since I’ve been here,” Waters said. “But admin’s always at home games, so we’re always paying attention and seeing what’s going on.”

The consequences for getting caught chewing tobacco would be a five day suspension from school followed by a seven day suspension from the team. Although tobacco is more common in college and professional play, the most pressure to start chewing occurs in high school.

“Tobacco is definitely prevalent in college,” Henkel said.  “But I think there is less peer pressure at that level because most people have already established those habits in high school.”

The close ties of tobacco and baseball force players to choose at a young age whether or not to start this deadly habit.

“I know I can say no,” Henkel said. “I feel like I’m strong-willed enough to make my own decisions in life.”