Curt Schilling told USA Today 17 years ago he had to quit chewing tobacco because, “If I keep dipping, I’m going to get cancer. I don’t think there’s any mystery there.” But despite repeated attempts to quit, 30 years of addiction proved more powerful than any slugger the star Red Sox pitcher ever faced. In February, he announced he had cancer and on Wednesday he said it was oral cancer, likely from dipping. His announcement came two months after Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn died at age 54 from salivary gland cancer, which he blamed on chewing tobacco.
But while others have mused about possible connections between chewing tobacco and cancer, the 47-year-old Schilling is pounding the strike zone for awareness. He bluntly told WEEI his treatments were so painful he’s not sure he would go through them again if his cancer recurs. He said the pain made him wish “I could go back and never have dipped. Not once.”
It’s time for the Major League Baseball players’ union to honor Gwynn, Schilling, and other victims of chewing tobacco by banning it from baseball. In the 2011 collective bargaining agreement, players accepted new limits on carrying and chewing tobacco in front of fans. But union director Tony Clark rejected an outright ban, saying this summer, “We give the players the opportunity to make the decision they’re going to make against the backdrop of it being legal.” But cigarettes are legal and they’re banned in workplaces. Hopefully, Schilling can change some minds in the clubhouse, and the union will accept a ban in its next agreement, in 2016.