In its August issue, The Hockey News published a picture of Thomas Vanek throwing out the first pitch at a Minnesota Twins game. On the surface, the picture, placed in the table of contents, seemed innocent. Vanek signed with the Minnesota Wild on July 1, and he excited Twin Cities sports fans with his appearance.
However, some fans took a closer look at it and questioned the magazine's photo selection of the former Minnesota Golden Gopher's baseball appearance. Here is a Getty Images photo of Vanek throwing out the pitch:
There is a clear bulge in Vanek's left pocket, which appears to outline a tin. Such a shape, notably among hockey players, is usually a tin of smokeless tobacco. In the wake of former baseball star Tony Gwynn's death due to salivary gland cancer at age 54, such a photo triggered backlash.
Ironically, columnist Adam Proteau bashed the use of chewing tobacco among hockey players in the same issue. Although the photo and column were unrelated, readers made the connection. Here are two of the letters published by the magazine:
The article about chewing tobacco in the August, 2014 issue carried a strong message. It really is a shame that so many young men are being drawn into taking up the filthy habit. It’s really disappointing though that the same issue features a photo of Thomas Vanek throwing out the first pitch at the Twins game, with a tin of tobacco clearly visible in his pocket. Using this photo is counterproductive when you run an anti-chewing tobacco article six pages later.
Cole Harbour, N.S.
I love the idea of kicking tobacco out of hockey. Obviously it is a health risk and a nasty habit; growing up there was nothing more disgusting than falling into a pile of it (that was spit by my coach). However, something immediately caught my eye in your August edition; on the inside cover Thomas Vanek is throwing the first pitch at a Twins game with what appears to be a tin of dip in his left pocket. Let’s hope it’s gum, right?
Blue Bell, P.A.
Editor-in-Chief Jason Kay addressed the issue on The Hockey News Blog on Tuesday. He also asked readers some questions:
Our editors noticed the bulge and discussed it briefly. We thought it was likely dip, but could also be gum, mints or candy that come in a similarly shaped container. One reader wondered if it might be a puck.
We concluded regardless of the contents of the container, we'd run the photo. If it indeed was chewing tobacco, so be it. It's reality and could be a stimulant for more debate (like this one). Some of our editors simply thought it was a non-issue.
Our question to you: did we make the right call by publishing it? What would you have done? Are you 100 percent convinced it’s chewing tobacco?
Kay brings up important points about the media's portrayal of smokeless tobacco. It may be time such an issue is taken more delicately, and publications keep an eye out for it. If Gwynn were still around, he might condemn Vanek's image.
Then again he might have more of an issue with Vanek, considering the location: A baseball stadium with thousands of budding child-athletes.
On the flip side, this could be used as a teaching moment.
-- Follow Jeffrey Eisenband on Twitter @JeffEisenband.