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INTERVIEW WITH DON HOOTON

Steroids and Our Youth:
An Interview with Don Hooton

Don Hooton
Don Hooton.

On Thursday, June 8, 2006 hundreds of people will come to DEA headquarters to take part in a candlelight vigil to remember those who have died from drugs. One of the parents who will share his story will be Don Hooton. Don's son Taylor's life was cut short by steroids in July, 2003. His story and the details of the vigil can be viewed by clicking here.

DEA spoke with Don about life since the loss of his son and about what he is doing to help ensure other parents know about the dangers of steroids. The following are excerpts from our conversation:

On losing his son and starting the Taylor Hooton Foundation (www.taylorhooton.org)

Taylor Hooton.
Taylor Hooton.

We were caught completely off guard when we lost Taylor. We had no idea the high usage of steroids among our youth. We had no idea of the serious dangers of the drug and we had no experience with suicide itself. As we went through the healing process, and after talking to others, we found out we weren't the only ignorant people on this subject. We felt the need to reach out to our friends here in Plano (Texas) just to let them know how many of their kids were using this stuff. We met most of our friends at the ballpark, and we felt the need to reach out and tell them what happened, so hopefully it wouldn't happen to their kids. Little did we know that there was an information vacuum about steroids not only here in Plano, but nationally as well.

The Partnership with Major League Baseball and the DEA...

We are teaming up with Major League Baseball's Strength and Conditioning Coaches and the Drug Enforcement Administration to go into MLB stadiums beginning this summer to put on clinics – we call these clinics Hoot's Chalk Talks. We will teach the local kids about the physical and psychological dangers of steroid abuse. Visualize - The kids will go to first base, where they will hear about the dangers of steroids as well as learn that to use them is to make a decision to cheat. Then, at second base the strength and conditioning coaches will teach these kids about how through proper diet and exercise it's possible to achieve their goals without using illegal steroids. Then at third base, they will have hitting and pitching coaches working with the kids on the fundamentals of baseball. Finally, DEA agents will talk to them in the stands and tell them that “if you haven't listened to anything so far, hear this - possession of anabolic steroids without a legitimate prescription is illegal and you can go to jail if you get caught with this stuff!”

We plan to be in 6-8 stadiums this year and then hopefully all of the stadiums the following year. We will be starting in Cleveland this summer.

Working with the DEA...

I have had the opportunity to work with both sides of the DEA. I was unaware that there were two sides of the DEA. There is the law enforcement side which we see on TV and in the movies and there is also the demand reduction side - two very different but two very important pieces of the organization. I have had the opportunity to work with a lot of extremely competent people who want to reduce the demand of steroids. I also had the privilege to be aware of Operation Gear Grinder. It was an extremely impressive and professional operation. It resulted in the largest bust of steroids in U.S. history.

His thoughts on Barry Bonds and the controversy surrounding him...

Our focus is on the kids. What a 40-year-old man does with his own body is his own business, and to some extent I don't care. However, I do care about the impact that professional athletes' behavior has on the youth of our country. These guys are role models – our kids look up to these guys and want to do anything they do to achieve their success. I'm tired of hearing that it wasn't against baseball rules to use steroids prior to 2002 - it's been against federal law since the early 1990's.

On Jose Canseco, whose book Juiced brought to light steroid abuse in and around Major League Baseball...

You don't have to like the messenger to understand that the message he was delivering was accurate. I respect him for having the courage, regardless of his motivation, to step forward to shine the light on this. However, I disagree with him leaving the reader with the idea that steroids were a panacea to his success. That sends the absolute wrong message to kids.

On Mark McGwire speaking to the youth of America about the dangers of steroids...

I think it would send an extremely strong and positive message. During the Congressional hearings, Mark McGwire said he would be a spokesperson against steroid abuse but in the year since, we have seen no evidence that he has stepped forward to speak to young people on this subject. We would welcome him to speak out on the issue. We would love to have him speak to kids on behalf of our Foundation. I think it would be a very powerful message. He is still a very revered player and role model.

On whether or not Mark McGwire would be forgiven if he acknowledges having used steroids...

America is a forgiving society. It would be very difficult for me or anyone else to not forgive him if he admits he did something wrong. These guys are setting an example that as parents we have a very difficult time overcoming when we are sitting around the table trying to teach our children the lessons of life. Step up to the plate, admit what you were doing was wrong and take your punishment like a man - just like we would teach our 10 and 12-year-old kids to do if they got caught cheating at school.

Shouldn't we expect the same kind of behavior of those men and women who we have put up on a pedestal in society?

If Don Hooton was the commissioner of all professional sports...

The first thing we need to do is implement the World Anti-Doping Association code of what is considered a banned substance in sports. It's just not necessary for each and every league to develop and administer its own list of banned substances. There is a world standard and all sports should adopt this list.

We also need to adopt a meaningful and independent testing program that is truly random, and that is administered in such a way that leaves no doubt in anybody's mind that all athletes have a real opportunity to be tested multiple times throughout the year. This will mean that there is more than a reasonable chance that these guys and gals can be caught and not avoid the process because they are a star athlete.

And, we need to adopt the Olympic standard with respect to penalties. Regardless of the sport you are in, whether you are in high school, college or professional sports, the first time you get caught using banned performance enhancing drugs, you are banned from participating in sporting activities for two years. If you get caught a second time, you are out for life. Only then will we send a clear, strong and unquestionable message to the youth of the country that the use of performance enhancing drugs is just not acceptable.

On testifying before Congress and the future...

The hearings were important for a number of reasons. They raised awareness about steroid use among our youth. I'm pleased with Baseball Commissioner (Bud) Selig and the steps that have been taken to tighten up the penalties in professional baseball. However, steroid abuse is clearly not just a baseball problem. We make a big mistake when we focus solely on baseball. This problem cuts across all sports. Our objective is to make sure the spotlight remains just as hot on steroid use as it has been for the last year, and to widen it beyond the baseball field.

The battle is not over, but based on my experience working with the DEA, I have no doubt their team will make every effort possible to stop steroids from getting into our communities. We still have light years to go in order to tackle this problem with kids. We already have over a million kids who are using anabolic steroids. It's going to take all of us to make a difference.


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