While most sports fans are aware of former Buffalo Bills Hall of Fame QB Jim Kelly’s battle with sinus cancer, and the recent passing of one of baseball’s greatest hitter ever – Tony Gwynn – up until earlier today most of us weren’t aware that another famous athlete is dealing with mouth cancer.
Former Boston Red Sox 2004 World Series winning pitcher Curt Schilling is currently fighting oral cancer.
We first learned Schilling had cancer back in February of this year, but we didn’t know exactly what type of cancer he was undergoing treatment for – that has since been in remission since June.
According to this CBS Sports article, Schilling announced he had been diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma — cancer in the mouth — during the WEEI/NESN Jimmy Fund Radio Telethon, according to Steve Silva of the Boston Globe.
Here is some of what Schilling has to say about his battle with oral cancer and the role he feels chewing tobacco played, courtesy of Steve Silva of the Boston Globe by way of the CBS Sports website:
“This all came about from a dog bite,”
“I got bitten by a dog and I had some damage to my finger and I went to see a doctor, and the day that I went to see the doctor, I was driving and I went to rub my neck and I felt a lump on the left side of my neck. And I knew immediately it wasn’t normal. So there happened to be an ENT [Ear, Nose, and Throat] right next door to the hand doctor, and I thought what the heck, let me just stop in and see and so I waited in the office and went in there and they did the biopsy, and two days later, they diagnosed me with squamous cell carcinoma.”
“I didn’t talk about it for two reasons.”
“No. 1, I didn’t want to get into the chewing tobacco debate, which I knew was going to come about, which to me, I’ll go to my grave believing that was why I got what I got… absolutely, no question in my mind about that.
“And the second thing was I didn’t want people to feel sorry for me.”
“I didn’t want the pity or any of that stuff because early on… I ended up spending about six months in the hospital because I had a bad reaction. I had a staph infection. I had what’s called C. diff. I had a couple different problems and there was a week there, there’s a week of my life I don’t remember while I was in the hospital going through this.”
“I did (chewing tobacco) for about 30 years. It was an addictive habit. I can think of so many times in my life when it was so relaxing to just sit back and have a dip and do whatever, and I lost my sense of smell, my taste buds for the most part.”
“I had gum issues, they bled, all this other stuff. None of it was enough to ever make me quit.”
“The pain that I was in going through this treatment, the second or third day it was the only thing in my life that had that I wish I could go back and never have dipped. Not once. It was so painful.”
Curt Schilling isn’t the only one, and while we surely wouldn’t want to use the personal tragedies of families losing loved ones to further any oral cancer awareness message, does Major League Baseball share some of that responsibility?
San Diego Padres Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn recently passed away following his ongoing, albeit relatively quiet, battle with salivary gland cancer, another form of oral cancer.
Tough questions that get into touchy subjects of politics, personal freedoms, & public health…and more.
Gwynn also attributed his oral cancer to his use of chewing tobacco. However, doctors never did link his type of oral cancer to his tobacco use.
Chewing tobacco, dip, chew, chaw, snuff, or whatever is a particularly hot topic in baseball these days, and Major League Baseball has taken steps in recent years to limit its usage and visibility among players.
Back in 2011 Oral Health America’s NSTEP® program (National Spit Tobacco Education Program) teamed up with the Chicago White Sox and Little League International to prevent people, especially young people, from starting to use smokeless (or spit) tobacco, and to help all users quit.
Oral Health America’s NSTEP® mission is to promote the message that “smokeless does not mean harmless.”
With regards to Major League Baseball trying to limit the usage and reduce the visibility of smokeless tobacco use, players and team personnel are no longer allowed to carry a can or package of chewing tobacco in their uniform while on the field.
That’s a pretty significant step toward reducing the visibility right there, if younger athletes look up to major leaguers as role models and try to emulate their on-field actions, that should have some measurable impact.
Also, with players or personnel not being allowed to show that more than a pinch of chewing tobacco between their lip and gum while signing autographs or conducting interviews, it seems MLB is taking significant action to further the dangers of chewing tobacco & oral cancer awareness message.
[UPDATE MAY 2015:] The San Francisco Giants have become the first Major League Baseball team to ban chewing tobacco on the field due to the new restriction. (source: UPI)
“San Francisco will send a simple and strong message. Tobacco use in sports will no longer harm our youth, our health,” Board of Supervisors member Mark Farrell, who sponsored the ordinance, said back in April.
Not only are players barred from partaking in smokeless tobacco, but any fans caught using will be ejected from the premises.
“Hopefully it will be a positive thing for us players. It’s not an easy thing to stop doing, but I support the city.”
Team manager Bruce Bochy echoes the same support:
“It’s a step in the right direction. I think it’s a good thing. It’s going to be hard to enforce. It’s a tough habit to break.”
“Our national pastime should have nothing to do with promoting a deadly and addictive product,” Myers said.
The restrictions will go into effect January 1, 2016.
Schilling is now 47, and works at ESPN as a baseball television analyst.
Again, we totally understand separating business from personal matters, limiting the political talk – especially when talking sports, and not wanting to jump on a soapbox only after being affected by oral cancer, but Schilling does have the opportunity to make a difference.
But when it all boils down to it, personal choice for each of us is what makes the difference between using chewing tobacco, smokeless tobacco, or smoking cigarettes.
To further Charles Barkely’s role model message, parents are the one’s responsible for teaching their kids about the dangers of tobacco use and the connection to oral cancer.
Major League Baseball, former athletes, political organizations, non-profits, and corporations can all do their part – however altruistically motivated actions differ – but ultimately parents will have the biggest impact on reducing tobacco use and helping spread the oral cancer message…from the ground up.