Tobacco Sends High School Athletes' Careers Up In -- Well, You Know

Jun 6 2014, 4:26pm CDT | by

State high school athletic associations and individual schools often take great pains to threaten sanctions (and sometimes, actually follow through) against athletes who take performance-enhancing drugs, drink alcohol or use street drugs, or don’t drink enough water. But one substance still on the no-no list is easy to forget, maybe because it’s being used by youths at historically low rates: tobacco.

Certainly, it appears that two lacrosse players for Beverly (Mass.) High weren’t aware its state association banned tobacco use by athletes. The local newspaper showed a picture of them smoking cigars to celebrate their recent high school graduation, and that was enough to get them banned from the state’s lacrosse playoffs, still happening even if the players’ academic careers are done. From the Salem (Mass.) News:

John Donovan said his son, Nick, and Dylan Jutras were suspended by the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association on [June 5] for violating the organization’s policies on tobacco. … John Donovan said his son is “devastated” and “in disbelief” over the suspension, which is for the remainder of the season. Beverly is scheduled to play Marblehead [June 7] for the Division 2 North championship.

John Donovan described the cigar-smoking as “a celebratory thing that transcends generations and cultures.”

“What’s the first thing people do when they have a baby? They hand out cigars,” he said. “Look at the statue of Red Auerbach (smoking a victory cigar). It symbolizes victory, it symbolizes accomplishment. It doesn’t symbolize anything negative as far as I’m concerned.”

On the other hand, there’s a strong argument that tobacco bans for young athletes — and the possibility of punishment for violating them — is among the many factors that has pushed youth smoking rates down. Though I would agree with John Donovan, who figures guys smoking graduation victory cigars (legally, if they’re 18) was not the intended purpose of the tobacco crackdown. The bans were designed to cut habitual tobacco use, both outside and inside competition.

Baseball at all levels is still grappling with fairly common use of chewing tobacco, a non-celebratory habit that transcends generations and cultures. Research as recent as 2011 found anywhere from 34 to 40 percent of high school baseball players use chewing tobacco. That research was released the same year Major League Baseball banned the use of tobacco-chewing in sight of fans, hoping to cut down its use and its influence on younger players. However, young players are still getting in trouble for their tobacco use; in March, University of Arkansas baseball signee Joneh Patten was suspended for his senior season at Norwell High School, outside Fort Wayne, after he was found in possession of chewing tobacco.


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