One would never think that NFL players dabble in chewing tobacco, or any tobacco product for that matter. But more than two-thirds of NFL players use chew on a regular basis. Of course, the NFL Commissioner has made some guidelines about the use of tobacco and alcohol before, during and after a game, but that doesn’t stop many of them from breaking the rules and getting fined. We’re talking the NFL here!

Here is the league’s policy on the use of tobacco and alcohol on game day:

Players and other club and League employees (including game officials) must not use alcohol or tobacco products while in the playing field area or while being interviewed on television. Further, NFL policy prohibits the use or presence of alcoholic beverages, including beer, in club locker rooms at any time during the preseason, regular season, or postseason, including during the practice week and on game day.

While Major League Baseball has spent years trying to curb chewing tobacco use in its game, the habit has permeated locker rooms for decades in the NFL, which does little to address the topic despite smokeless tobacco’s links to oral cancer and nicotine addiction. It’s largely a “hidden” problem since players are covered in gear and less recognized than baseball players on the field or in the dug-out.

Anywhere from 75 to 80 percent of the players in the Browns’ locker room chew tobacco or used to do so, says former Cleveland punter Spencer Lanning, now with the Denver Broncos, estimates. Two Steelers players say usage in their locker room falls between 65 and 75 percent. “Some started in college, others didn’t do it until they got to the pro level, but it’s widespread,” Lanning said. “I’ve never been on a team that didn’t have at least half or 75 percent that did it.”

Those percentages double the range gathered in a 2014 Boston Globe report citing 21 of 58 Red Sox players at spring training (36.2 percent) admitting to dipping. After two decades coaching in college and the NFL, Steelers quarterbacks coach Randy Fichtner has struggled to kick the habit. He hasn’t suffered any health issues yet but knows he could.

Contrast the use of smokeless tobacco use in the NFL with the average fan. As of 2014, the adult smoking rate across the U.S. was estimated at 16.8 percent; much lower than the average NFL team. Considering that the pro football industry prides itself on recruiting top-performing athletes, the NFL is the last place you’d expect to find players that are hooked on chewing tobacco or any other tobacco product.

Judging from the intense action in Super Bowl 50,  our guess is that both teams were tobacco free.

By Kevin Keenan, Community Engagement Coordinator, Tobacco-Free GLOW