MLB vs. Chewing Tobacco Is A Battle of Image vs. Personal Choice
Bryant Gumbel once live reported next to plane crash wreckage and kept his emotions in check. Yet, the subject of chewing tobacco makes him openly wince on the air.
"Disgusting" he proclaimed during a recent episode of HBO Real Sports tackling the issue of chewing tobacco in MLB clubhouses.
Gumbel is a consummate professional and a fine journalist, but his attitude towards chewing tobacco is echoed by people as high up as MLB commissioner Bud Selig. Selig has openly said he will pursue a ban on chewing tobacco or "dipping" in MLB clubhouses.
Interesting. Is this not the sport that looked the other way as it's stars blew up to cartoonish proportions? Is this not the sport that immediately buried Barry Bonds yet needed a Congressional investigation to finally consider that Roger Clemens was taking performance enhancing drugs?
The MLB looking to ban chewing tobacco is a battle of the league's image vs. personal choice. The league doesn't want to be known as the league where guys spit a lot. Is that better or worse as being known as the league where most of their major statistical records are tainted?
Fair or not, the spectre of the steroid era still looms. With every home run Jose Bautista hits, the PED questionss linger, fair or not. We've seen it before. A great hitter puts up monster stats out of nowhere. Forgive us as fans for being a tad skeptical given the recent fiascos with such stars as Manny Ramirez and Alex Rodriguez.
While Selig's contributions to baseball should not be discounted, it seems like taking aim at chewing tobacco is an easy way to grab headlines for a sport that is losing viewers. The MLB prides itself on it's history yet refuses to let a younger, digitally connected generation view the sport's classic moments on YouTube.
Clearly, the MLB has bigger problems.
Yes it's disgusting, but let's take a look at our standards. This is a media culture where a video of Willis McGahee's knee going Wile E. Coyote has a six digit YouTube view count. We live in an age where MMA is at it's peak. Grown men bloodying each other is at this point a heavily marketable phenomenon. In the Deadspin era, Brett Favre's cell phone indiscretions are news. So are a few baseball players spitting into the grass on TV really THAT big of a deal?
Of course, tobacco is an easy target. Always has been. So why not try take a swipe at it under the guise of public health and "doing it for the children." It gets Bud Selig some kudos and public image points, but it doesn't bring people to the stadiums. Players chewing certainly isn't what is driving people away.
Brett Butler told HBO that even though he suffered throat cancer from dipping, he still does not support a ban on chewing tobacco in clubhouses. If an MLB star who truly suffered from the habit still believes it should be an option, maybe the MLB should get off their collective pulpit