GRIZ GRIT: Just a Pinch

By Beacon Staff

Just a pinch between the cheek and gum. Unfortunately that long-used advertising ploy is bringing death and disfigurement to a rash of athletes as well as the general population.

And while we are starting to see extensive publicity about the devastating effects of smokeless tobacco, it is still accepted behavior in most professional circles.

Being involved in athletics, I have many friends whose back pocket frames a circular spot for their can and, of course, their spit cup also is always available.

And I have to admit while I readily have asked people why they still are smoking, I never even come close to inquiring or chastising some of my best friends, some of whom have to ask for a hit, because their spouse is convinced they no longer are using.

Remember those days when smoking on the football sidelines or even in the dugout was acceptable? It’s not now, at least in public view, but head up the runway in a major league baseball park and I guarantee you the smells are apparent.

Now I don’t want to sound preachy here. Everyone has their demons and a good share of us have an addiction of one form or another.

But we are just starting to realize, and to see for that matter, the terrible defacing and ultimately the early demise of the users of smokeless tobacco.

Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn may be the most prominent athlete to begin to give the issue the negative publicity it deserves.

Reconstructive surgery has renewed his boyish and contagious smile. As a college coach, he is adamant about what smokeless tobacco did to him and apologetic about whether his use encouraged other young players to follow in his footsteps.

There are a bevy of other horror stories just beginning to surface and there’s nothing like a television profile like one I saw recently on ESPN’s “Outside The Lines” to bring the issue into graphic and grotesque perspective.

But here’s one I have trouble understanding: The use of smokeless tobacco is banned in the minor leagues but not by Major League Baseball, reportedly because of the Player’s Association.

It’s that old adage: “You can’t tell me how to live my life and if I want to be stupid, that’s my business and none of yours.”

OK, I get that, but what I don’t get is what happens to the 12-year-old who emulates your behavior because he wants to be, to use another advertising moniker, “Just like Mike!”

Centers for Disease Control statistics indicate 6.1 percent of high school students and 2.6 percent of middle school students use smokeless tobacco.

Almost 6 percent of American Indians chew while 3.5 percent of adults partake.

It would be interesting to see those statistics broken down geographically to see if the western culture influences and even encourages the acceptability of chewing tobacco.

The CDC says smokeless tobacco contains 28 cancer-causing agents (carcinogens) and is associated with recession of the gums, gum disease and tooth decay.

The use is dirty, offensive and indeed dangerous.

At least four of my best coaching friends regularly, and they believe secretly, chew.

I just want them to stop.

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