The signs of steroid use were there. Taylor Hooton had put on 30 pounds of muscle in less than three months.
There was the acne on his back. The mood swings. He was emptying bottles of Scope to mask his bad breath so fast that his father jokingly accused him of drinking the stuff. Then, on July 15, 2003, his mother found Taylor hanging from his bedroom door. He was just a month past his 17th birthday, one of at least seven players on his high school baseball roster of 15 using anabolic steroids as Major League Baseball’s so-called “steroid era” raged on in the background. Don and Gwen Hooton hadn’t connected the dots, but neither had the family physician, nor a dermatologist. It was only after six one-hour sessions with a psychiatrist that Taylor had admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs. Seven months after Taylor’s death, Don launched the Taylor Hooton Foundation, which in its 11 years — funded primarily by MLB — has gone from being a leading advocate of high school steroid testing to a full-time traveling educational resource, making stops at middle schools and Division I athletic departments alike. Paul Steinbach asked Don Hooton to describe the organization’s metamorphosis.
By spring 2015, your home state of Texas reportedly had spent $10 million on high school steroid testing and caught just 40 users. What did you expect?
It’s very difficult to measure how effective you are in deterring steroid usage. That’s one challenge. The other challenge was that because we got so few positive tests, politicians and coaches and athletic directors who don’t understand the intricacies of steroid testing were led to conclude we don’t have a steroid problem, which couldn’t have been further from the truth. The truth is it’s very, very difficult to catch a steroid user even using the most sophisticated tests. We spent a lot of money, but on a per-test basis, it was a poor man’s approach to steroid testing.
What would you have done differently?
We would have taken that money and put it into education. Fewer than 20 percent of adults nationally even recognize we have a performance-enhancing drug issue in high schools. Then it’s about educating both adults and kids on what these drugs really are, where they are coming from, the physical and emotional risks associated with them. Eighty-four percent of children report they’ve never had an adult — a coach, a parent or a teacher — discuss with them why they shouldn’t be using performance-enhancing drugs. Other than the work we’re doing, there isn’t any significant effort I can think of in this area. We do programs every year in every middle school and high school in the state of Rhode Island, for example. That’s what I wish we would have done here in Texas.
How do the drugs affect teens emotionally?
If a kid injected himself with anabolic steroids, from the very first time he took that excess testosterone into his body, his male organs stop producing testosterone. It’s not needed. The brain can’t tell the difference between the synthetic stuff and the real stuff. When a user stops using steroids, it takes a period of time to start producing testosterone again — in some cases more than a year. During that period of time, you have no testosterone in your body. Zero. And heavy depression can set in. It was during that period, according to the doctors who have examined Taylor’s case, that he took his life.
How is your foundation trying to address this danger period?
There is no medical protocol that exists for treating patients coming off of anabolic steroid usage. We’re working with several medical organizations now, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Sports Medicine, and we’re working with an expert panel out of NIDA, the National Institute of Drug Abuse, and trying — not trying — we’re finally making progress in stimulating the medical community to fill that gaping hole that is still out there, to do the medical research and create the medical protocols that will tell a psychiatrist or a family physician or a sports doctor how to counsel kids and how to wean them off these drugs.
This article from the January/February 2016 issue of Athletic Business magazine is republished with permission.