OMAHA, Neb. — Virginia pitcher Josh Sborz slips a pinch of chewing tobacco between his cheek and gum every now and then, even though the NCAA banned the substance 20 years ago,
“I enjoy the taste. It’s not like I’m addicted to it,” Sborz said. “I just enjoy it, definitely. I do it maybe once a month or every other week.”
Sborz said this week’s death of Hall of Fame baseball player Tony Gwynn might give college players some pause. Gwynn died at 54 of oral cancer believed to be connected to his long use of chewing tobacco.
“It should have an impact when such a star-studded player’s life was ended by the addiction he had. It’s sad,” Sborz said.
Whether Gwynn’s death has any real impact is an open question and it comes amid some concerns: Baseball players acknowledging using spit tobacco at least once in the previous month rose from 42.5 percent in 2005 to 52.3 percent in 2009, according to the NCAA’s quadrennial survey substance use trends among its athletes. Results of the 2013 survey have not yet been released, though preliminary results suggest a drop since 2009.
About 15 percent of teams in each NCAA sport are asked to participate in the anonymous survey, with a total sample size of about 20,000 athletes. Among all male athletes, 16 percent acknowledged using tobacco in 2005 and 17 percent in 2009.
Sborz said he believed the survey was “skewed” when it comes to ball players.
“All those people don’t do it every day,” he said. “If people do it every day, that’s where it becomes a problem. If they do it once every week, I don’t see any issue with it.”
Minor-league baseball banned tobacco in 1993, a year before the NCAA. Tobacco is not banned in the major leagues.
Though tins of tobacco aren’t visible in college dugouts like they were before 1994, that doesn’t mean players aren’t dipping when they’re away from the ballpark.