Faith Groups Pitch Ban on Baseball's Nasty Habit

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The practice of chewing tobacco is banned in college baseball and in the professional minor leagues. Now several groups, including faith leaders, are pushing to get the habit permanently banned from Major League Baseball.

Like it or not, baseball players are role models. So if they chew tobacco, some of their fans will, too.

This is accurately depicted in the movie, "The Sandlot," where a gang of young boys begin chewing tobacco to emulate their baseball heroes, namely, Babe Ruth.

"Yea man, all the pros do it! It gives you tons of energy! " they squeal.

Unfortunately, Babe Ruth died young from throat cancer. Bill Tuttle, also an avid chewer, died of mouth cancer after having his cheekbone, jaw, and gums removed.

Brett Butler, Curt Flood, and Tony Gwynn are just a few more examples of players who chewed and developed some type of oral cancer.

However, chewing is not just a habit among baseball players. Other sports heroes also chew tobacco, like former Heisman Trophy winner Pat Sullivan.

The baseball great chewed smokeless tobacco for 25 years and is convinced it led to him developing throat cancer. He warned that once you start chewing, it's hard to quit.

"No matter what my wife, children or anyone said, I had all the classic excuses. 'Oh, it's not going to happen to me. I can put it down any time I want' -- all those things. It wasn't going to happen to me, but it did," said Sullivan, who used smokeless tobacco for 25 years.

Contract Talks

Right now, the spotlight is on tobacco use in Major League Baseball. The contract between the players union and the MLB is being negotiated and will last five seasons. This year, ten leading health organizations have asked both sides to agree to a ban on smokeless tobacco.

Even faith leaders are pressing for a decision. Calling themselves Faith United Against Tobacco, they are comprised of 25 religious groups, including Christians, Muslims and Jews.

Dr. Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission said he sees tobacco use in the major leagues as a faith issue.

"My religion teaches that our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit," he explained. "And we shouldn't be doing things that are destructive to it."

"We should be protecting our children from being exposed to those things which are going to addict them and are going to cause them harm and pain," he said.

Baseball commissioner Bud Selig has made his feelings known about the use of tobacco on the ball field.

"I personally believe that smokeless tobacco should be banned at the major league level. But the players union has only said they will discuss it," he said.

Former Player's Opinion

Gary Lavelle is a former major league pitcher who now coaches a championship high school baseball team. He never chewed and strongly discourages his players from doing it.

But he stops short of saying tobacco should be forbidden.

"It's not a banned, illegal drug," Lavelle said. "So I think if they want to chew it, then that should be their prerogative."

"I think a lot of time we get to a point where every body's trying to mandate things to all of us and I think there should be freedom of choice," he said.

The use of smokeless tobacco products has increased by 36 percent among high school teens in just the last eight years.

Matt Matthews, himself a teenager, knows kids who chew and said they are influenced by their major league role models.

"A lot of the younger guys just look at them and say, 'Oh, that's what he does, that's what I'm going to do,'" he said. "And it becomes something that's logged in their minds from a very young age."

'Snuff Made Me Stumble'

Texas Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton recently did an about-face on the issue and announced that he gave up using snuff.

"Thinking about different things, and what might be causing me to stumble in my relationship with the Lord, I felt like chewing tobacco was one," he said.

"So I got up this morning and threw it all away. So when it is time to take a dip, I will pray instead," he said.

Meanwhile, at many peewee baseball parks, parents are concerned about how their children will respond to the temptation to chew.

"These kids are highly tuned-in to sports that they're watching on television and they see it. It's so obvious," Martha Kerr-Van Camp, the parent of a Little Leaguer said.

"But I think there's just this trend to try it and once you try it then, it's so scary at that point," she said.

So as the next generation of pro baseball players rises through the ranks of Little Leagues across the country, the hope is that they will be different, rejecting a habit some of their heroes have embraced.

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Lorie  Johnson

Lorie Johnson

CBN News Medical Reporter

Lorie Johnson reports on the latest information about health and wellness. Since medicine is constantly changing, she makes sure CBN News viewers are up-to-date on what they need to know in order to live a healthy life.  Follow Lorie on Twitter @LorieCBN and "like" her at Facebook.com/LorieJohnsonCBN.