AM 760 KFMB - Talk Radio Station - San Diego, CA - Gwynn Would Not Have Wanted to Sue Big Tobacco If Still Alive

Gwynn Would Not Have Wanted to Sue Big Tobacco If Still Alive

Updated: May 25, 2016 7:31 AM

I’ve never been so enamored with an athlete (or a celebrity, for that matter) and how he comported himself throughout his life like Tony Gwynn did.

He was the San Diego Padres organization, through and through for 20 years. He also was a humble legend for the 13 years following his retirement from the game he loved more than anything. He would ultimately succumb to salivary gland cancer in 2014. The baseball world and the community of San Diego lost a hero, both in legend and reality.

Tony Gwynn made “Baseball Night in San Diego” one of the greatest events to attend in America’s Finest City. He always made time to sign autographs for fans who loved and adored him. It didn’t matter if you were a Padres fan or one who loved his team’s biggest rivals.

He would love to engage with those who came out to the ballpark. Whenever he would attend events outside the ballpark, that infectious laugh and smile would light up the city for years to come.

Now that Gwynn is no longer with us, this lawsuit that’s been brought forward by his family against a big tobacco company has me, and many other fans, scratching their heads for a number of reasons.

The suit was filed in Superior Court in San Diego against Altria Group Inc., the tobacco giant formerly known as Philip Morris, and several other defendants who are accused of inducing Gwynn to begin using smokeless tobacco, or dip, at San Diego State University, which he attended from 1977 to 1981 and where he later coached after a 20-year career with the San Diego Padres.

There are no damages specified in the complaint, which asks for a jury trial on grounds of negligence, fraud and product liability. Essentially, the complaint says that Gwynn, while in college, was the victim of a scheme to get him, a rising star athlete, addicted to smokeless tobacco, while knowing the dangers it posed to him. The suit says that the industry was undergoing a determined effort at the time to market its products to African-Americans, and that Gwynn was a “marketing dream come true” for the defendants.

Let’s present a case for the Gwynn family for a moment. Forget that damages were not specified in the lawsuit. Maybe the Gwynns want to ultimately raise a great deal of awareness, in addition to what already exists, of the dangers of using tobacco.

Let’s hypothetically say they family wins their case. It’d be an amazing, feel-good story if they were to donate their winnings from the case to cancer research and/or charity. It seems like something Tony would’ve done as well if he were still alive today.

The family feels it has enough proof that big tobacco was manipulative in their approach to Gwynn. Perhaps he was sent boxes and cases of Skoal, or any other sort of smokeless tobacco. Perhaps the company was creating an image that the side effects did not outweigh the benefits of chewing or dipping smokeless tobacco as opposed to smoking cigarettes.

How about the possibility of the big tobacco companies wanting to reach out to kids when their brains are much more able to be manipulated? This probably was a stepping stone for them to reach out to high school and college students who were playing baseball back in the 1950s and 1960s when smoking was considered “cool.”

College baseball players became a hot commodity for the tobacco companies for branding purposes. It’s a damn good possibility that Tony Gwynn was going to be one of the most sought-after baseball players the game had ever seen, and big tobacco wanted to take that risk.

This is a horrible idea to even mull around the ol’ noggin as I write this. I know that advertising and marketing are such key components to accepting or denying a product.

Regardless whether the product works or not, the company wants to get their product into as many homes as possible and using a player like Tony Gwynn would be a great conduit for big tobacco. One thing I cannot argue in favor of or against is the race card being played by the Gwynn family.

Did baseball players not attempt to move on from cigarettes and smokeless tobacco 40-50 years ago? There was a transition to get kids to chew bubble gum as a more viable alternative. They wouldn’t have to worry about getting cancer or sucking in the fumes from cigarettes or dealing with poorly-managed gums in their early-to-mid adult years from dipping & chewing.

I remember chewing gum a lot when I played baseball. I have my parents to thank for that as well as advising me to never smoke cigarettes or anything, for that matter.

Was Gwynn “ultimately a walking billboard” for big tobacco for more than 30 years? Yes, that’s certainly a vivid picture to draw and bring to the table. The family says they want a jury trial to decide whether big tobacco is to blame for manipulating Tony over the years.

Should a jury of his proverbial peers be able to decide? Should a grand jury take on this case? Also, with all the government regulations over the years, you would think they would’ve gotten involved to help protect the children from smoking, dipping and chewing.

Since money is what makes this world go ’round, and that’s even more evident in today’s day and age, the huge tax revenues the government receives from big tobacco motivates them to take a step back and let consumers make their own mistakes.

I don’t have much of a voice to determine, given all the evidence that they’ve gathered, the family has a strong case or not. I do, however, have a stance on the lawsuit as a whole.

Gwynn perfected his game and lived to be one of the greatest hitters Major League Baseball has ever seen. He’s the one player who symbolizes the San Diego Padres organization whenever you talk to fans of the sport and the team altogether.

I was taught that, more often than not, I was responsible for my own actions. Isaac Newton’s laws of physics were never limited just to the world of science. They have a social connection as well. Newton’s third law of motion is that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

Gwynn knowingly took these containers of smokeless tobacco and used their contents for more than 30 years.

You would think, with the prevalent side effects being relayed every which way but loose, that Gwynn would’ve caught on to how horrible tobacco and nicotine were for the human body. Black lungs, tumors in your mouth, rotting of the esophagus, and other conditions do develop with prolonged use of tobacco.

It’s really not that hard to figure out if you look. However, I do understand that, like tobacco, products can become addicting. It’s very difficult to kick an addiction, especially one as strong as smoking, dipping or chewing.

Getting back to my original point, I love and adore Tony Gwynn for everything he’s done, but as someone once said: sometimes great people make stupid decisions. Whatever happened to owning up to your mistakes and never using such a product again?

Please remember that I’m not claiming I know what it’s like to have an addiction because I don’t. I’m trying to sympathize that I know the first step in kicking addiction is said person admitting they have a problem. We cannot force that on them. They must come to terms with it on their own.

Tony Gwynn was a very smart man in how he handled himself on and off the field. He loved giving back to the community. He may not have been so smart as to continue using tobacco for 30 years.

I’m also a proponent to believe that if he were still alive today – and I don’t think I’m alone in this – is that Tony would’ve accepted his mistakes and moved on with his life and not sued big tobacco.

They have a string of lawyers that seem to never end and perhaps Tony would have felt the battle would be like kicking a dead horse. What about a statute of limitations on cases like this? Don’t you think there has to be a limit of some sort? It’s hard to say, I suppose.

Personal accountability seems to be buried six feet under a sand dune out in the middle of nowhere. We live in a society where we have to point the finger and place blame without accepting responsibility for our own actions. My argument against this is like blaming the silverware company that made the spoon, which I purchased willingly and knowingly, and I blame the spoon for making me overweight or obese.

Let’s say this goes through the courts and the Gwynn family wins. Will this allow people, who willingly purchased products and knew of its potential side effects prior to buying, to sue the company for fraud, negligence, and product liability? It seems very counterintuitive.

This would make the idea possible that anyone who’s been a victim (or related to a victim) of a mass shooting to blame and sue the gun manufacturers rather than the assailant himself/herself. It’s a real arbitrary and yucky can of worms I want to stay far away from opening.

In closing, this case could get ugly and could go on for months, or maybe years. How long is the family willing to fight this and continue to raise awareness? This isn’t necessarily a black eye on the Gwynn family, the Padres organization, or the tobacco industry.

What matters in the end is we must continue to influence our children that smoking, dipping and chewing tobacco in any way, shape or form, is bad for you. If they choose to rebel and use it by their own volition, then so be it.

We all make mistakes. If we don’t learn from those mistakes, don’t move on to the next part of our life, and continue to abuse ourselves with such a detrimental product, then we have nobody to blame but ourselves.

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