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Original Issue


Chain Letters

Charles Barkley (Citizen Barkley, March 11) is good for the black
community, I believe. I'm an African-American professional who
feels that there are still different sets of rules for blacks and
whites in America, and that Charles is a racist person's worst
nightmare because he's not afraid to speak his mind on racism. I
was very troubled, however, by the picture on the cover. I don't
like the fact that Charles did the shackled cover, but for SI to
come up with the idea was in bad taste. Anyone who would think of
this cover is a person who still thinks of black people as
slaves. I think you just proved Charles's point.
VINCENT S. RONEY, Coraopolis, Pa.

My seven-year-old asked me why the man on the cover was in
chains. I handed him the issue and explained that when slavery
was practiced in this country, we treated black people that way.
He said "Oh, and the chains are broken because we no longer do
that." Jack McCallum's excellent article and Walter Iooss Jr.'s
disturbing photo make this point beautifully.
DAVID HANKINS, Mechanicsburg, Pa.

That's just what Alabama needs: a racist, gambling, swearing
governor who throws in the occasional sexist comment.
CRAIG MITCHELL, Sykesville, Md.

Charles, getting people to talk openly about racial issues in a
down-to-earth fashion is a great feat. Charging racism is
counterproductive to your candor.
CHRIS GRIFFIN, Kennesaw, Ga.

As a professor of biology at a university, I have many black
students working very hard to become doctors, microbiologists
and environmental specialists. Charles, if you visit, I will
introduce you to them. You might learn something.

Barkley is an arrogant, rich talking head who loves the
spotlight, parties and golf. In addition he expects other people
to work hard so he can look good and be successful. With these
qualities, Sir Charles has all the makings of a great
politician. If only he weren't so honest.
DAN DEMING La Habra, Calif.

On the cover, Charles Barkley didn't trivialize slavery, he
personalized it.
JOSEPH WRIGHT Mitchellville, Md.

Regarding the cover: Just when do you believe Barkley was
DAVID GOODKIN, Thousand Oaks, Calif.

More on Smokeless

I am a professor of pathology at the University of Alabama at
Birmingham, and I conduct research on the risks of tobacco use.
Rick Reilly has strong opinions about smokeless tobacco (THE LIFE
OF REILLY, March 18), but unfortunately his views are based on
incorrect information that was apparently provided by the
National Spit Tobacco Education Program. As a sports reporter Mr.
Reilly can be excused, but NSTEP should know better. Your readers
(and major league baseball players) deserve correct information.
Reilly writes that smokeless users have "50 times the chance to
get oral cancer as" nonusers of smokeless tobacco. The number 50
properly refers only to an extremely rare type of cancer. The
correct number for all oral cancer is four, and it applies mainly
to people using smokeless for more than 40 years. Our research
has documented that the health impact of this small risk is
minimal. For example, a 35-year-old baseball player who uses
smokeless tobacco will live on average only 15 days less than his
tobacco-free teammate. In contrast, the ballplayer who smokes
will lose on average eight years of life. Quite simply, smokeless
tobacco is 98% safer than smoking and about as safe as driving an
automobile. Reilly claims that people who have tried quitting
both have said, "quitting spit tobacco is twice as hard as
quitting cigarettes." In fact, while all tobacco contains
nicotine, a very addictive drug, there is simply no evidence in
the scientific literature to support the notion that smokeless is
more addictive than smoking. This is a myth promulgated by
"quit-or-die" antitobacco zealots to discourage smokers from
switching to smokeless. Reilly starts his column with the
horrific image of "cancerous white lesions forming inside the
players' tobacco-caked lips." NSTEP claims that 21 ballplayers
from last year's exams appeared to have cancerous or precancerous
lesions. SI readers will be surprised to learn that the average
age of the (rare) person with smokeless-associated oral cancer is
78 years. NSTEP health professionals should know this. Finally,
Reilly adopts the derogatory NSTEP term "spit tobacco."
Alcoholics Anonymous does not call itself Booze-Hounds Anonymous.
It is ironic that a health-based organization whose stated
mission is "to help all [smokeless] users to quit" would use in
its name a term that is so demeaning and degrading toward those
whom it claims to assist.
BRAD RODU, Birmingham

Conference Confusion

I couldn't agree with Seth Davis more (INSIDE COLLEGE BASKETBALL,
March 11). For teams in one-bid conferences, their entire season
really comes down to how they do in three league tournament
games. Why? So their conference can get one stinking game on
ESPN. That the Ivy League awards its automatic NCAA bid to the
regular-season champion rather than to the team that won its last
three is only fair to the players who outplayed everyone else
over a 10-week span.
JULIAN KWAN, Arlington, Va.

Letting everyone into the NCAA tournament would make the regular
season irrelevant? The tournament already makes it irrelevant!
Just ask 31-4 Cincinnati how good its season was.
CHRIS CONNELLY, Ann Arbor, Mich.