Bully for Doctors Who Believed They Could Back a Team

Everyone hates a bully, but I'm willing to make an exception for Dr. Alan Blume and his tiny band of troublemakers, who have made the United States a safer place for non-smoking boomerang throwers and also for non-boomerang-throwing sports fans yearning to breathe free.

Blume is a doctor who noticed some time ago that the tobacco industry spends a lot of money sponsoring sporting events. Tons of money, on lots of sports. There are car races, tennis tournaments, golf tournaments, rodeos, bowling tournaments, cricket matches and almost a boomerang team sponsored by tobacco companies.

Blume reasoned that the tobacco companies sponsor these events for a reason. He reasoned that the reason was to foster an association in the public mind between the product and healthy, exciting, activities.

"Buying credibility and creating public complacency is the name of the game," as the Medical Journal of Australia put it a few years ago.

The result of this mass sports sponsorship, Blume further reasoned, is more smokers, smoking more cigarettes, and getting sick more and dying more horrible tobacco-related deaths. As a doctor, this irked him.

So he helped form DOC--Doctors Ought to Care--a nonprofit organization of 1,000 health-care professionals and parents, in 1977. The cigarette makers didn't exactly quake in fear. DOC is a gnat gnawing on an elephant's ear.

But DOC has scored its first big bite. DOC has stolen the U.S. boomerang team right out from under Philip Morris' nose.

This makes DOC a bully. After all, the tobacco industry is down. No-smoking laws and rules are popping up like mushrooms after the dew, driving smokers into back rooms and closets. You can't even smoke at the Forum. Everyone is picking on smokers. All this stuff is making smoking less socially acceptable, and is making the tobacco industry as nervous and jumpy as someone trying to kick the habit.

Anybody who hits a major industry when it's down, when it's reeling and coughing, is a bully, so that's what DOC is, a boomerang-team-stealing bully.

What happened was that the U.S. boomerangers were negotiating with Philip Morris, the cigarette people, for sponsorship of our 3-man team at the World Cup in Australia. Philip Morris would give the boomerangers $15,000 in return for publicity and exclusive magazine coverage in Philip Morris magazine.

DOC heard about the pending deal and, like a bully, moved in and leaned on the boomerang boys. Blume convinced our throwers that they were selling out to the cigarette people, turning themselves into smoking billboards. Blume offered DOC's sponsorship and fund-raising assistance to the team.

The boomerangers liked DOC's offer, even though the amount of money would be significantly less, and told P.M. to take a hike.

"The decision was made to forgo said money and take a stance for boomerangs as a positive health promotion, and not linked to a tobacco company," the U.S. team said in a press release. "We have the unique opportunity to represent a U.S. sports team that specifically desires sponsorship from health-conscious industries and individuals."

When our three boom boys march into Barooga, New South Wales, next week for the World Cup, they will have clean consciences and clean lungs, and will be flying DOC's anti-smoking banner.

"On a small scale, this answers the tobacco industry's argument for sponsoring sporting events--'If we didn't do it, who else would?' " Blume says.

Blume keeps busy shooting down such arguments. When the tobacco industry insists that its sports promoting is not aimed at influencing kids, Blume takes his camera to a Virginia Slims tennis tournament and shoots pictures of little kids buying and wearing Virginia Slims hats and T-shirts. He clips headlines about "Kids Night at Virginia Slims," and "Virginia Slims Teens Win."

He and DOC poke fun at the industry, sponsoring its own Emphysema Slims tennis tournament. In general, DOC is a pain in the cigarette butt.

"We want to call attention not only to the rapid encroachment of the tobacco industry in sports, but its co-option of it," Blume says.

The tobacco industry will probably survive this latest blow. Maybe it will buy all the boomerangs in the world and convert them into trendy match sticks.

But the gnat has its teensy foot in the door.

Now people might start thinking when they see a cigarette ad featuring a pretty, healthy young girl with a tennis racket. People might start noticing how many race cars are painted up like huge cigarette boxes, how many Marlboro men on billboards ride herd over our big league ballparks.

People might start thinking about why the cigarette people are dumping all this money on sports. Is it simply because these companies are good sports at heart?

DOC is a little overmatched, financially, so don't expect the tobacco industry to crumble like a dead leaf. That boomerang sponsorship money cut deep into DOC's coffers.

"I'm in debt," Blume admits.

At least it's not oxygen debt.

And as for you U.S. boomerang team throwers (and catchers): Good luck, and many happy returns.

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