June 3, 2011
Religious leaders representing 25 faith groups around the country today called for the Major League Baseball Players Association to agree to Commissioner Bud Selig’s proposed prohibition on tobacco use at games. The faith leaders join a growing coalition of medical groups, public health officials and fans that is urging baseball to prohibit smokeless tobacco use in the contract that is to take effect next year.
The leaders represent some of the largest faith groups in the U.S., including Methodists, Baptists, Jews, Seventh-day Adventists, Muslims, Lutherans and Presbyterians. Among those who signed the letter are Dr. Richard Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention and a longtime leader among evangelical Christians, and James E. Winkler, general secretary of the United Methodist General Board of Church and Society.
“In our calling, we see the impact that tobacco use has on families and communities,” the religious leaders wrote in a letter to Michael Weiner, the executive director of the MLBPA. “This is a product that maims and kills those who use it.”
The leaders noted that smokeless tobacco use among high school boys has climbed 36 percent since 2003, and said big league ballplayers have a responsibility to be better role models for young fans.
“When the cameras are rolling and they zoom in on a player, the last thing we want our kids to see is a big wad of chewing tobacco in his cheek or under his lip, as if he’s an advertising spokesman for deadly tobacco,” Land said. “The players must recognize that they are harming their own health and jeopardizing our children’s futures by continuing to make it look as though smokeless tobacco is integral to the major league mystique.”
Winkler said: “The players’ union has a chance to resolve this issue without delay by following Commissioner Selig’s recommendation for a Major League Baseball prohibition on tobacco use that’s similar to what already is in place in the minor leagues. This shouldn’t be contentious. It’s a matter of protecting players’ health and the well-being of kids.”
Smokeless tobacco use causes oral cancer, gum disease, tooth decay and mouth lesions. Its use by young people also may serve as a gateway to cigarette smoking, the nation’s number one cause of preventable death.
In November, 10 major medical and public health groups asked Selig and Weiner to agree to a prohibition on tobacco use at games as part of the current contract talks. Sens. Richard Durbin of Illinois and Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey also have called for a ban, and in March, the top public health officials in a majority of Major League Baseball cities joined together in backing a prohibition.
Selig announced on March 31—Opening Day of the 2011 season—that the league would propose a tobacco ban comparable to the one currently in place in the minor leagues. The players’ union has not responded to Selig’s commitment, and has said the issue is the subject of negotiations.
Many of today’s young baseball stars, including Washington Nationals pitcher Stephen Strasburg and American League Most Valuable Player Josh Hamilton, have spoken publicly about their addiction to smokeless tobacco and difficulty in quitting. Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn’s recent cancer diagnosis and his public comments attributing his disease to years of chewing tobacco have underscored the health threat from smokeless tobacco.
Tobacco use was banned in the minors in 1993. The NCAA and the National Hockey League have instituted prohibitions on tobacco use. Major League Baseball lags behind.
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