EM Athlete Reacts to Former Coach’s Tobacco-Related Death

Tobacco-related cancer among older coaches and athletes inspires current generation to reject cigarettes and chaw.

Tobacco Related DeathEM Athlete Addison Reed and Tony Gwynn’s lives intersected at San Diego State where Addison was the closer for Tony’s Aztecs. With Tony’s untimely passing of due to cancer, Addison had a dramatic and profound reaction that we hope becomes a trend. Gwynn died of salivary gland cancer that he firmly believed was caused by the tobacco he habitually stashed in the right side of his cheek.

He would have applauded Reed.

Reed said when he walked into the clubhouse the first thing he did was take the seven cans of chewing tobacco in his locker and throw them out. First he opened them, and then he dumped the tobacco in the trash can. It may have been the most fitting tribute.

Here’s hoping the rejection of tobacco among athletes becomes a trend.

In another related story, baseball great Curt Schilling recently announced that he too is suffering the consequences of 30 years of chewing tobacco. After having experienced gum damage and losing his sense of smell and taste, Schilling also developed squamous cell carcinoma. He believes the cancer is unquestionably linked to his tobacco use, and said that the pain of cancer therapy finally made him “wish I could go back and never have dipped. Not once.”

According to Vince Willmore, spokesman for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, the experiences of athletes like Tony Gwynn and Curt Schilling “sends a powerful message about the risk that chewing tobacco poses to the health of players.”

The American Cancer Society has urged the league to ban tobacco use at ball parks. This would include everything from chewing tobacco to cigarettes to new forms of smokeless tobacco currently being promoted by the tobacco industry  from types of snuff to dissolvable products and lozenges that look like mints. The industry runs ads for these products in sports magazines popular with kids, which may explain why 15% of high school boys use smokeless tobacco.

Len Lichtenfeld, deputy chief medical officer at the American Cancer Society, says he hopes Major League Baseball will find a way to make something good come out of these two players’ diagnoses. “We want some lessons to come from this,” Lichtenfeld says. “This is a serious problem and one that needs to be addressed.”

“We wish Curt Schilling all the best in his recovery,” Willmore says, “and appreciate him speaking out.”

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