Hall-of-Famer Tony Gwynn was conspicuously not mentioned at the 2014 Major League Baseball All-Star Game. Could it be because later in his life, Gwynn was critical of chewing tobacco, blaming it for the cancerous tumors that eventually took his life?
Mark Townsend of Big League Stew with Yahoo Sports reported that Fox Sports and Major League Baseball issued a joint statement about the non-mention of Gwynn.
We are deeply saddened by the loss of Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn, an extraordinary individual whose memory we have honored in numerous ways in recent weeks. The Baseball family has sadly lost a number of people this year - including Hall of Famer Ralph Kiner, Frank Cashen, and former All-Stars Jerry Coleman, Jim Fregosi and Don Zimmer - and did not want to slight anyone by singling out one individual.
Hollywood knows how to handle such tributes. They take a minute or two to show a quick video of all actors, directors, producers, etc. in the midst of their Oscars celebration every year. Why can't MLB? Why, during their three or more hour game, couldn't they have taken a minute to mention those names?
You know that if New York Yankees Shortstop Derek Jeter had perished in a car crash a few weeks before the game that somebody might have said something. Nobody would have said "Well, we want to be fair to Frank Cashen, so we won't mention Jeter."
Maybe there's a reason the silence was deafening.
Before he died, the San Diego Padres star became very vocal about how much trouble chewing tobacco caused him. Cindy Boren with the Washington Post noted that Gwynn "believed that his lengthy habit of using smokeless tobacco was to blame for cancer of the mouth and salivary glands that took his life."
And Fox Sports and Major League Baseball occasionally wag their finger at smokeless tobacco, but neither wants their advertising revenue to "dip."
High school baseball teams have banned chewing tobacco. College baseball bans chewing tobacco. The minor leagues do too. But MLB doesn't, according to the Boston Globe. Sure they said teams shouldn't make it available in clubhouses, and shouldn't chomp chaw during interviews.
Major League Baseball has a long connection to smokeless tobacco. Chewing tobacco companies used to provide free samples to teams. Baseball cards and bullpens owe their origin to chewing tobacco. Acknowledging Gwynn's death and why it happened might actually lead for calls to ban the substance in MLB.
As for Fox, the network also has an ambivalent relationship with chewing tobacco.
When Gwynn's death was announced and chewing tobacco was cited as a reason by everyone else, a Fox Sports article written by Loren Grush said "But does the science back up the claim? When it comes to the origins of most cancers, many experts are hesitant to attribute the development of tumors to one cause in particular." The article goes on to say there's a possible association between tobacco and such cancers, but it leaves enough of a "maybe." Other articles on the subject are far more clear about the deadly dangers of the chewing tobacco.
Fox has chided lawmakers for calling for bans on smokeless tobacco. Another Fox Sports article says that slugger Josh Hamilton ended his slump when he went back to chewing tobacco. And there's Fox pundit Sarah Palin, who went in front of the NRA to denounce New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's tobacco billboard bans, pulling out a can of chewing tobacco to the crowd cheers.
Perhaps Fox and MLB didn't want to mention Gwynn during the game because it might have led to increased calls to ban smokeless tobacco. And that would rile up players, conservatives, and chewing tobacco companies.
John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Ga. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.