Another baseball, chewing tobacco bombshell: Former Red Sox, Diamondback and Phillies pitcher Curt Schilling revealed yesterday that he is battling oral cancer, and he directly blames his years of chewing tobacco while playing baseball.
“I do believe, without a doubt, unquestionably that chewing was what gave me cancer,” he said [on NESN]. “I’m not going to sit up here from the pedestal and preach about chewing.”
Schilling, of the legendary bloody sock in the ALCS, is the second high-profile baseball player who has been in the news this summer over chewing tobacco and cancer. Several weeks ago, Tony Gwynn died of salivary gland cancer several weeks ago after years of chewing tobacco.
The Schilling case is just the latest reason to ban chewing tobacco in baseball. Currently, minor league players are not allowed to chew tobacco on the field, while in MLB, players are not allowed to smoke cigarettes. However, the players’ union insists on protecting players’ right to continue chewing tobacco on the field. I’ve posted about this repeatedly over the past year, for some mystifying reason, chewing tobacco is deeply, deeply ingrained in the culture of baseball. Why? No one seems to know. No one seems to have any answers for that. Baseball players simply chew. A lot. And a lot of baseball players have gotten oral or mouth cancer — Babe Ruth died of oral cancer and Roger Maris died of some kind of head/neck/oral cancer.
Schilling described the seven weeks of painful radiation therapy he underwent. The therapy caused him to lose 75 pounds because he has trouble eating solid food. He also has trouble generating saliva due to the treatment.
“Recovery is a challenge,” Schilling said. “There are so many things that are damaged during the process. I don’t have any salivary glands, I can’t taste anything and I can’t smell anything right now. And there’s no guarantee they’ll come back.”
Red Sox manager John Farrell talked about Schilling and the culture of chewing tobacco in baseball.
“I don’t want to call it a tradition, because it’s not,” Farrell said Wednesday afternoon. “But it’s a norm in baseball culture.”
“MLB has taken steps to dissuade players from using it through educational programs that are administered to every team,” Farrell said. “It’s even got to the point [in the minor leagues] now where players can be fined if smokeless tobacco is in view of the general public. There have been some of those warnings and penalties levied on some of our players.
“I think we all recognize that it’s addictive and causes cancer. That’s proven. [But] at this time, it’s upon the player to make the conscious decision for himself to use it or not. All we can do is continue educate guys what the ramifications are. … On the heels of the unfortunate passing of Tony Gwynn and what Curt is going through, you would think this would be a current beacon for guys to take note that there’s a price to be paid, if you’re one of the unfortunate ones stricken by cancer.”
Schilling apparently was diagnosed with a “lesion” on his lip 10 or 15 years ago and had the lesion removed. He quit chew for a year-and-a-half, but then got back in the habit. So, even after wising up, even after a lesion was found, the power of nicotine won out.