Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Autonomy, Individual Rights, and Chewing Tobacco

The new collective bargaining agreement between professional baseball players and the league has taken a small step towards limiting the presence of chewing tobacco in baseball. Players can still chew and spit during games, but they cannot carry it in their uniforms. No more tins or pouches in the back pocket. A ban on its use during games was considered, but rejected.

Chewing tobacco has been part of baseball culture for over a century. It is something you see when you watch baseball. Of course, many of those watching baseball are children and those playing are their idols whom they then use as role models. As a result, a number of these children will start chewing because they see their heroes doing so. This will mean some of them will develop addictions leading to lip and mouth cancers that they otherwise wouldn't have and thereby a number of premature deaths that need not have occurred. This is simply a fact of the world.

The question is whether this fact means that players should have their right to use tobacco during the games stripped from them. A liberatarian outcry has emerged since the CBA was released, arguing that this is an infringement on the players rights. Baseball players do not lose autonomy because of their chosen line of work and if they want to carry and chew, they should be the ones to make the choice. They are adults as are the parents of the kids and this second set of adults should do the parenting, not Major League Baseball.

On the other hand, the league sure does like the tickets sales to families and all of the money from selling overpriced jerseys of the favorite players they get a cut of. When having players be heroes makes them cash, they're plenty happy, but does this also come with a moral responsibility to make sure that their idols present an image that is healthy? Given that ball players are role models, does this mean that they should be expected to surrender certain rights (not to ever chew, but only during the three hours of game time) for the good of the children they will be influencing?