The Edmond Sun

Sports

June 26, 2014

OPINION: Honor Gwynn by remembering where he went wrong

Tony Gwynn’s life is worth celebrating. He was a first-ballot Hall of Fame player with the San Diego Padres who owned a .338 lifetime batting average. He was an All-Star who didn’t require celebrity treatment.

Then there was the tragic side of Gwynn, who recently lost a four-year struggle with salivary gland cancer. Sadly, he attributed his fate to the many years he used chewing tobacco, a practice common among baseball players. It was a cruel end to a life that spanned 54 years.

Baseball has long glamorized the use of tobacco - whether a plug of the chewing variety, which players display as bulging lumps in their cheeks, or the finely-grained snuff that players wedge beside their jaws. Either results in near-constant spitting. It also provides the game its macho look.

Worse, the practice, beyond being filthy and uncouth, has served as a powerful marketing device for younger players to emulate. That's brought boys, especially the many who play on amateur teams, into close contact with hazardous products. Snuff and chewing tobacco sold in the United States contain carcinogens.

It’s fine when youth-league players study hitting styles preferred by the pros. Emulating their lifestyle choices involving tobacco is problematic.

A few years ago a group of U.S. senators sought the players union's support in asking Major League Baseball to ban tobacco use. The senators wrote:

“When players use smokeless tobacco, they endanger not only their own health, but also the health of millions of children who follow their example. An agreement would help the health of players and be a great gift to our young fans.”

Some advancements were worked out between MLB and its players, but mostly those were cosmetic. Teams were prohibited from providing tobacco products to players, and players were not allowed to carry tobacco tins in their uniform pockets or appear in televised interviews while smoking, dipping or chewing.

Other levels of baseball have prohibited the practice. Today tobacco use is banned in the minor leagues, and most college and high school teams play on tobacco-free campuses.

That doesn’t mean, however, that the practice has disappeared. Some players and coaches carry on, even though it's against the rules. Most try to disguise what they’re doing as chewing gum.

It’s a hard habit to eliminate because tobacco use is addictive, even at a young age, and some players credit it with their success on the field. Others see it as part of being cool. Teenage boys in good health see themselves as invincible anyway. Then there are those who think, “Well, it’s got to be better than smoking cigarettes.”

In 2012, 11.2 percent of high school boys used smokeless tobacco products, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC, American Cancer Society and others warn that smokeless tobacco causes cancers of the oral cavity, esophagus and pancreas. Risk factors increase with age. Treatment can be difficult, and mortality rates approach 50 percent. Those who don’t die often face disfigurement following surgery.

Some hope Gwynn’s death will shake players who continue to use tobacco products into quitting. His story gives coaches, parents and mentors another strong argument to make to young players about the hazards of mixing baseball with smokeless tobacco.

If alive, Gwynn likely would be the first to speak out about the dangers. He blamed tobacco for his health problems, which necessitated two surgeries. “Of course it caused it,” he said in an interview. “I always dipped on my right side.”

He paid a high price. “He suffered a lot. He battled,” his agent, John Boggs, told The Associated Press.

If Gwynn's warning makes it to high schoolers, perhaps some won’t start the practice and others will quit, sparing them his difficult, painful fate. If so, Tony Gwynn's legacy will not only be that of an All-Star ballplayer whose talents put him in a select group of legends. He'll also be remembered on an honored list of true lifesavers.

Tom Lindley is a CNHI sports columnist. Reach him at tlindley@cnhi.com.

1
Text Only
Sports
  • Manziel has been ‘Johnny Off the Spot’ during Browns training camp

     It doesn’t take long to see that Johnny Manziel isn’t ready.
    Just stand on the sideline at a Browns’ practice, and you’ll know. Watch Brian Hoyer run the first-team offense with confidence and precision, hitting his receivers in stride, comfortably executing offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan’s complicated system.
    Then watch Manziel work with the second-team offense, when he underthrows what should be an easy pass on an out route, have a snap sail over his head in the shotgun formation and miss a receiver over the middle on another route.
    This is pretty obvious stuff.
    Even to Manziel.

    August 1, 2014

  • Castiglione lends hardwood expertise to new football playoff committee

    Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione serves on the NCAA basketball tournament selection committee and will be the committee chair for the 2015-16 season.
    Does he have any advice for the 13 members of the football playoff selection committee?

    August 1, 2014

  • spts-Weber St. Anthony Morales.jpg Bulldog grad a Carolina Panther

    Former Edmond Memorial linebacker Anthony Morales is not going to attend school this fall at Weber State University.
    Instead, he signed an NFL contract with the Carolina Panthers Thursday morning.
    “I’m on the 90-man roster and I've got to make the cut, so I’ll be in the preseason games and then after the third one, they do the cut to 55 and then after the last game, they go down to 53,” Morales said. “(The Panthers)” have 10 linebackers, including myself.”

    August 1, 2014 1 Photo

  • spts-EN Olivida Seefeldt swimmin' hard.jpg Edmond swimmers dominate at All-State meet

    Edmond was again well represented in the All-State swim meet Monday night in Jenks. The West dominated the East, rambling away to a convincing 72-21 decision in the girls competition. The West boys cleared the East, 55-38.
    In girls action, Edmond North graduate Olivia Seefeldt won a pair of individual events, taking the 50 freestyle and 100 freestyle. She was also a member of the 200 medley relay and 200 free relay teams, which also won gold medals.

    August 1, 2014 1 Photo

  • Edmond Santa Fe hosting Punt, Pass & Kick competition

    Young pro football fans will have the opportunity to exhibit their football skills when the Edmond Santa Fe Touchdown Club hosts an NFL Punt, Pass & Kick competition Saturday, Aug. 16 at the Edmond Santa Fe Football Stadium, 1901 N.W. 15th St. Registration will begin at 8 a.m. with the competition kicking off an hour later. Punt, Pass & Kick is free and open to boys and girls ages 6-15. Entry forms and rules are available online at NFLPPK.com. For competition information, contact Kelly Kay at kkay@ymcaokc.org.

    August 1, 2014

  • spts-DC Brock Ruminer dive TD catch.jpg Deer Creek 2nd largest in Class 5A

    With the Oklahoma Secondary Schools Activities Association releasing enrollment figures, Deer Creek stands as the second-largest school in Class 5A with 1,252 students.
    Lawton Eisenhower, which had been a very strong football program in 6A, is now tops in 5A with 1,281 students.
    Schedules in football classification still remain the same until 2016-17. Del City will move back into 6A beginning in 2016.
    The statistics will not be deemed official until pending approval at the OSSAA’s board meeting next month.

    July 28, 2014 1 Photo

  • Wilson, Grissom take on more suitable roles for 2015 season

    Experience comes from encountering the same things in the same ways over and over again. Oklahoma’s Geneo Grissom and Julian Wilson have that at defensive end and nickleback in bunches.
    However, both will be seeing new things when practice begins. Grissom is moving to outside linebacker. Wilson will be getting a look at cornerback as his senior season begins.
    The moves were made to aid OU’s defense. They could benefit both in the future.

    July 28, 2014

  • spts-OSU Yurcich.jpg Yurcich ready for second season

    With the 2014 season on the brink, Mike Yurcich, Oklahoma State University football offensive coordinator, is ready for his second year at the helm after coaching a powerful offensive squad a year ago.
    Yurcich and most of the Cowboys’ coaching staff attended the annual media golf outing  Wednesday at Karsten Creek. He, along with the other assistant coaches, talked about the upcoming season.
    “Every offense is going to be a little bit different from year to year, depending on the personnel,” Yurcich said. “I think you learn a little bit more about the players, because you know them for a longer time. You know a little bit more about the coaches you work with because you’re around them a little bit longer. All of those things factor into one more year of experience.

    July 28, 2014 1 Photo

  • spts-EN Jaci Smith long backhand.jpg Wallar voted National Tennis Coach of the Year finalist

    The National High School Athletic Coaches Association honored  Dee Ann Waller, coach and teacher from Edmond North High School, as a finalist for the National High School Athletic Coaches Association National Coach of the Year in tennis.   
    Eight finalists from across the nation were chosen to be honored during The National Coach of the Year awards banquet that took place during the National High School Athletic Coaches Association’s national convention June 14-18, at the Snow King Resort in Jackson Hole, Wy.

    July 25, 2014 1 Photo

  • spts-Hershey Mary McKey.jpg McKey to compete in North American final

    Edmond’s Mary McKey, who attends John Carroll Catholic School in Oklahoma City, qualified for the Hershey’s Track & Field Games North American Final after winning the Hershey’s Oklahoma State Meet  June 28.
    McKey, 12, had the fastest time in the region that consists of Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, New Mexico and Puerto Rico. Hershey only accepts eight runners from North America.
    McKey is a Catholic grade school champion and the first Catholic student to qualify for the North American final. She is also a Jim Thorpe Games 400-meter      champion.
    The North American final will run Aug. 2           in Hershey, Pa.
     

    July 25, 2014 1 Photo

Photos