By: Robert Davies
The first game of the 2011 World Series between the Texas Rangers and St. Louis Cardinals aired last October. In the weeks leading up to the game, US senators were consistently asking the Major League Baseball Players Association to voluntarily ban the use of all tobacco products on the field, in the dugout, in the clubhouse, and in the locker rooms. They asked that the ban include smokeless tobacco, like dip and chewing tobacco, long-time mainstays of the baseball world.
The reasoning behind the proposed ban is the use of smokeless tobacco not only endangers players’ health, but it sets an example for all the children who idolize their favorite players. A World Series games, for example, can draw over 10 million views, many of them children. The senators argue that children will watch their favorite players use tobacco, and thus, be more inclined to use it themselves. Albert Bandura’s Social Learning Theory supports the senators’ stance. Social Learning Theory states that we learn new information and behaviors from watching others (i.e., observational learning).
I argue that while we may learn from watching others, Social Learning Theory has limits. There are plenty of behaviors we have seen others engage in that we have not taken part in. If we learned from those around us, we would be in deep trouble. This even goes for role models. We don’t do everything our role models do. Plenty of actors smoke, drink heavily, do drugs, cheat on their spouses, and have several partners. With the exception of the drugs, we don’t place bans on anything they do, and actors are just as much role models for children as athletes.
In my opinion, all the talk about role models didn’t even scratch the surface of the flaws in the senators’ argument. Children are not allowed to buy chewing tobacco. They cannot see a player using tobacco products and immediately start doing it themselves. Any person who is 18 years old should be able to make the decision of whether or not to use tobacco products. Anyone who watches TV is subjected to countless advertisements for alcohol which could influence children as well. If a person is at the age where they can legally purchase tobacco or alcohol, we as a society have deemed them ready to make the decision of whether or not to use such products. It is unfair to take away the right that baseball players (if they are over 18 years old) have to use tobacco products.