Parents might be surprised to find that a number of athletes still smoke tobacco.

Caution should be exercised when pointing out to children that athletes are good, healthy-living role models. In fact, an increasing number of American athletes smoke dope. More on that tomorrow.

For now, let’s explore the history of athletes and tobacco, past to present.

Tobacco and sports champions

1935

This vintage Camels ad features a number of sports personalities at the top of their game in the middle of the 20th century. To see a larger image, visit South Florida Filmmaker.

Ellsworth Vines Jr was a champion tennis player. As an amateur, he won Wimbledon in 1932. In 1934, he began playing professionally and was the leading pro player until 1938. In 1942, he became a professional golfer and won three tournaments between then and 1951. Vines died in 1994 at the age of 82.

Helen Hicks was one of the first women professional golfers. She won the 1937 Women’s Western Open and the 1940 Titleholders Championship. She married Whitney Harb in 1938 and competed as Helen Hicks Harb until 1948. In 1950, she and 12 other women founded the LPGA. Hicks died in 1974 at the age of 63 from throat cancer.

Harold ‘Stubby’ Kruger represented the United States in swimming at the 1920 Olympics in Antwerp. He was also a water polo star and friend of Johnny Weismuller. After their athletic careers ended, Weismuller went on to play Tarzan in 12 films and Kruger pursued a long career as a Hollywood stunt man. He died in 1965 at the age of 68. In 1986, he was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame as a ‘pioneer swimmer’.

Another athlete advertised Lucky Strikes in the 1920s, legendary tennis ace Bill Tilden, who won 138 of 192 amateur tournaments between 1912 and 1930. He won Wimbledon, his last major title, at the age of 37 in 1930. He turned professional after Wimbledon and went on to tour with a select few fellow players until 1945. He died in 1953 at the age of 60 from heart complications. He was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1959. Many tennis fans consider him as one of the greatest tennis players of all time. Incidentally, he played his closest rival Ellsworth Vines Jr six times in the latter half of 1934 and lost each time.

Around the same time, British school teacher Tom Hampson won the 800m gold in the 1932 Olympics held in Los Angeles. The Independent tells us:

he is said to have started the day with a fry-up, a cup of tea and a cigarette.

When he was at Oxford, famous middle-distance runner Roger Bannister’s closest rival was Eric Mackay:

who, according to legend, “could not last the nine laps of a three-mile race without a cigarette and had a friend standing by with one ready for a quick drag before the bell”.

In the middle of the 20th century, legendary baseball player Joe DiMaggio appeared in Chesterfield adverts. Golfer Arnold Palmer smoked L&Ms on the fairway.

Closer to the present day, footballer Johan Cruyff — voted European Player of the Century in 1999 — and considered one of the most influential players in the game’s history smoked 20 cigarettes a day until 1991, at which point he had double heart bypass surgery:

Proof, if any, that smoking a lot does not stop you becoming one of the world’s greatest footballers.

As a manager, Cruyff went on to make Ajax a powerhouse in the 1990s. His coaching methods injected new life into FC Barcelona.

21st century athletes

Some sports fans think that their heroes abhor tobacco. Although many do — and some have turned to drugs — there are still a few traditionalists around.

Cricket

Record-breaking Australian cricketer Shane Warne is the best of his generation with:

145 test matches, 194 ODIs, over 50,000 balls bowled on an international stage. Oh yeah, 1,000 international wickets too.

He:

not only smoked, he was a chain smoker …

Retired England cricketer, Phil Tufnell:

took over 1,000 wickets across all first-class cricket, and his personality, trademark behaviour and “great control of flight” when playing made him a popular sports personality.[2]

I saw him on television a few weeks ago (C4’s At Home with Steph and Dom). He was puffing away quite happily.

Tennis

German tennis player Karsten Braasch, who retired in 2005, used to smoke between changeovers and:

was described by one journalist as “a man whose training regime centred around a pack of cigarettes and more than a couple bottles of ice cold lager.”[2]

He was known for defeating both Serena and Vanessa Williams in a ‘Battle of the Sexes’ contest at the 1998 Australian Open when he was ranked 203:

playing a single set against each, beating Serena 6–1 and Venus 6–2.[3]

The unforgettable Russian Anna Kournikova, who now lives in Miami Beach, immersing herself in charity work, including the occasional match for a good cause, was known to smoke during her career:

In 2000 she admitted enjoying a smoke to wind down telling a French newspaper: ‘My smoking has nothing to do with my tennis.

‘It is absolutely my business when I smoke cigarettes. And I like to have a few cigarettes, especially in the evening after a hard day.’

Tim Henman also smoked at least occasionally during his career. He was very careful to keep it secret.

Football (soccer)

Goliath published an article last month: ’10 Athletes You Didn’t Know Smoked’.

Among them are footballers.

Wayne Rooney has:

been seen and criticized for smoking on holiday, proving that when you are a household name, your every move will be watched and scrutinized.

Mario Balotelli is an inveterate smoker. He is now on loan to AC Milan and is contractually obliged to obey a good behaviour clause, one where:

of course, smoking is strictly prohibited.

Ashley Cole:

is known to smoke heavily during the off-season, and his friends claim that he will chain smoke cigarettes whilst on vacation.

Golf

Irrepressible and unconventional golfer John Daly has stopped drinking but:

He does, however, still smoke around 40 cigarettes a day. The 49-year-old very recently collapsed whilst playing in a tournament in Mississippi on the 18th hole, and this was due to a collapsed lung from a rib injury he suffered in 2007. In typical John Daly fashion, he returned to the course the next day and was even spotted smoking a cigarette on the clubhouse patio. Although not exactly a positive role model for kids, Daly is a fan favorite due to his attitude and his non-country club appearance and lifestyle.

Baseball

New York Yankees star Alex ‘A-Rod’ Rodriguez:

is also a cigar smoker, and will often be seen lighting one up after an impressive performance.

Basketball

Legendary Michael Jordan, the greatest basketball player of all time:

is also a cigar aficionado. This is not something that he has picked up since retiring either, as he would also smoke a cigar before every single home game to relax. There are not many players that could get away with doing something like this, but “His Airness” is not like most other players. His first cigar was given to him by Jerry Reinsdorf (Bulls owner) after winning the first NBA title, and he soon fell in love with sparking up. Jordan is not seen too often these days, but when he is he will often be seen with a cigar in his mouth. He has even appeared on the cover of the popular magazine Cigar Aficionado, where he revealed how stepping back from the public eye has allowed him to enjoy himself.

Recent Olympians

Most people consider that Olympians lead the lives of saints. It is unthinkable that any of them would smoke.

Yet, London’s Olympic Village had designated smoking areas for the 2012 Games. This was the first time in many years that an Olympic Village has had such a provision. Well done to them, because, as even anti-smokers had to admit, including New Zealand’s chef de mission Dave Currie:

“I was going to raise it at the chefs meeting and rant and rave but my experience is that in a village some people smoke and you usually find piles of cigarette butts in furtive corners.

“It’s a bit of a ‘name and shame’ approach I suppose because these things are right in middle of walkways and people use them to smoke. Ideally it’d be great if they didn’t have them but it is probably a better option than people lurking in odd places.

“It is the first time I can recall there has been a smoking pod …”

The article adds a bit of Olympics history with regard to tobacco:

When Mark Todd won his first Olympic gold medal on Charisma in 1984 he nervously dragged on a cigarette as the competition leader, American Karen Stives, took to the showjumping ring. Stives knocked off a rail on the penultimate jump, and Todd took gold. Todd is to compete in his seventh Olympics when the three-day eventing starts next week.

Three-time Olympic gold medallist Peter Snell [1960, 1964] used to work for cigarette manufacturer Rothmans.

The world was somewhat surprised when 2012 Tour de France winner and Olympic gold medal winner Sir Bradley Wiggins finally got a chance to rest after several weeks of cycling and — gasp — smoked a cigarette:

Wiggo seemed happy and relaxed as he enjoyed the balmy evening.

Good for him. Tour de France winners often smoked cigarettes in the old days.

The Independent told us about Wiggins’s lung capacity:

One of the keys to Bradley Wiggins’ four Olympic golds, not to mention his Tour de France victory, is his lung capacity: eight litres, compared to the average man’s six. Perhaps that substantial natural advantage – inherited from his cyclist father – is why Wiggins was content to partake of a cigarette on holiday in Mallorca this week. He certainly isn’t the first celebrated athlete to relax with a crafty puff.

Nor will he be the last!

Conclusion

As a post at Smokescreens explains, the thing to remember is that these smoking athletes have outperformed non-smoking athletes:

Take a second to take that information in: the smokers, breathing in their deadly, unnecessary and toxic smoke, are physically fitter and healthier, and superior in a sporting sense over the athletes from their country who don’t smoke.  Now I am not for a moment suggesting that the smoking is responsible for their being chosen, but clearly it has not hindered them in the slightest. 

How true. Time to look at all the facts for once.

Tomorrow: Dope-smoking athletes

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