Several Major League Baseball cities have passed legislation banning the use of smokeless tobacco products in sports venues, with New York’s ban just being voted on this week. ESPN will examine the still-developing story across multiple platforms this weekend.
Sunday’s Outside the Lines (ESPN, 9 a.m. ET) will focus on the story with reporter Michele Steele, who conducted interviews with players and officials but found resistance in getting people to discuss the topic. San Francisco, Los Angeles and Boston were the first three cities to enact the ban.
“This has been one of the more challenging stories I think that I’ve ever worked on at ESPN,” said Steele, who joined the company in 2011. “It’s something that everyone to a man knows is a bad habit, but it’s something that some players feel strongly is a right that they have.
“It was tough to get people to go on camera and talk about it,” she said. “In fact, we had one ballplayer who said he wouldn’t go on camera because he didn’t want his mom to know that he was dipping.
”You’re putting a camera in someone’s face and you’re asking them to talk to you about what can be a serious addiction.”
While the San Francisco Giants declined to participate in the story, players David Ortiz (Boston Red Sox) and Chase Utley (Los Angeles Dodgers) and Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona were among those interviewed by Steele, as were Boston mayor Marty Walsh and Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.
Steele, who is based in Boston, got the idea for an OTL piece last year after reading about the Boston city council’s discussions of a ban, following the one put in place first by San Francisco.
“I told OTL this is something that could become a national trend and it has,” she said. “It’s been amazing, just in the last few weeks as we’ve tried to put this story to bed, how many more cities have come onboard, including Chicago and New York.”
Shorter versions of the OTL story will air on SportsCenter and Baseball Tonight, and a print version written by Steele and producer Willie Weinbaum is on ESPN.com. Spanish versions will appear on ESPN Deportes One Nacion.
“I hope that people see this piece and at least contemplate the huge influence that athletes have and continue to have on younger athletes and people who want to emulate them,” said Steele. “Charles Barkley famously said ‘I’m not a role model’ and everything that we have learned about this proves just the opposite – that baseball players are some of the best non-paid endorsers for this product. It’s a serious thing and something that I hope people won’t take lightly after watching this story.”