Friday, July 16, 2010

Working To Stop Another Family Tragedy

"Not only can you not turn your back, but you have to keep your eyes open and be looking for it," stated Don Hooton, Founder of The Taylor Hooton Foundation. "We all want to deny that our kid would want to do something like this. Well, we learned the hard way they can be doing stuff like this."

For the 3rd consecutive summer, Don Hooton was back at Nationals Park to talk with young kids about the dangers and health risks surrounding steroid use. Unable to handle the physical effects to his body and becoming depressed due to anabolic steroids, Mr. Hooton's son, Taylor, committed suicide in June, 2003 as a 17 Year Old. Young Taylor was a rising baseball star. He felt the pressure to be the best and he did so by any means--without his parent's knowledge. Since Taylor's death, Don Hooton has dedicated his life to help prevent such a tragedy from happening again to others. Major League Baseball and PBATS (The Professional Baseball Athletic Trainers) now teams with The Taylor Hooton Foundation in hopes of reaching thousands of kids in many Big League cities. The goal to stop the peer pressure and educate youngsters about healthy lifestyles without the use of steroids.

Unfortunately to Don Hooton's surprise, educators in many school systems around this country have not been willing to allow The Taylor Hooton Foundation to give their "Hoot's Chalk Talks" to their kids. Working to stop another family tragedy, these school systems have left Mr. Hooton shaking his head in dismay. And he talked at length with Nats320 about that disappointment.

Nats320: Let’s start by talking about the resistance you are still getting from schools.

Don Hooton: I still continue to be amazed at the resistance that we get. The active resistance that we get from some of our school officials, not wanting us to come in and talk to their kids. And the way they explain it to us is we hear the same song and dance for quite a few quarters--which is if we have you guys in to talk to our kids it’s like admitting we’ve got a steroids problem. I have got to scratch my head. Do you really wait? Is talking to your kids about heroin or cocaine or the other drugs and alcohol admitting you have a heroin problem? Well, of course not. So we’ve still got some big hurdles to overcome with some of our school leaders. It’s really troubling.

Nats320: Yet, if you went to these same school officials to talk about alcohol abuse, they would let you in right away?

Don Hooton: Sure. Since there are active programs for alcohol abuse and drugs or marijuana, but for whatever reason there is a stigma, I guess, that goes along with steroids. Just like they have in the big leagues, whether that be in baseball or football or the other sports. Everybody is in denial and wants to take an offensive step that my team’s not cheating. It is about cheating, but more importantly, it’s about the life and health of these kids.

Nats320: It really makes no sense that they would keep you out of schools to talk about the subject. Can you speculate more specifically why?

Don Hooton: At best, it’s ignorance. It’s lack of knowledge. It’s lack of awareness. At it’s worst, it may very well be for a few of these officials, they know this stuff is going on and they got a winning team while the coaches are making more money than most of the teachers. They can always see the problem on another team in their community or in their division, but for whatever reason it’s certainly not going on in my school.

Nats320: Not in my backyard syndrome.

Don Hooton: Never in my backyard. And I can never admit it even if I know it is going on because it calls into question the legitimacy of the last record that was broken or the last trophy that was won. Guys, we’ve got to get beyond this approach that it’s got to only be about winning and losing. It’s got to be about protecting kids from drugs and we are not there yet. In some communities, we are. In Scottsdale, Arizona, they do an annual program every year for the entire community and all of the schools. We come in and work with Major League Baseball and some of the local officials. But that needs to become the rule, not the exception.

Nats320: Do you have any idea what your reach is right now around the country?

Don Hooton: We are not counting any more, but we’ve reached a few hundred thousand kids directly. But we really need to be reaching millions. Hundreds of thousands is not a time for celebration, we’ve reached a lot of kids, but we have so much farther to go.

Nats320: Major League Baseball has played a major role in getting your efforts off the ground, can they do more?

Don Hooton: Without Major League Baseball’s support, we could not exist as an organization. They have been phenomenal both in their financial support as well as the intangibles. The management team from Commissioner (Bud) Selig all the way down to the team level. They have been supportive of this message. We are here in Washington today, partnered with The Washington Nationals. And before the season is out, we know we will hit 28 of the 30 teams. We hope this year to be able to do programs in all 30 Major League Stadiums. So Major League Baseball has been phenomenal and they’ve just re-upped their commitment to us for another three years. So, really good stuff all thanks to them.

Nats320: If MLB has committed to you for another three years, could they also help you reach out to those communities where you are receiving push backs from school officials?

Don Hooton: I guess they could, but what we are learning is that for Major League Baseball that’s not their sweet spot. Our job, our task, is to find ways to get into the schools. It helps when we can say we are partnered with Major League Baseball. That’s a great credibility statement, but now with that being said, let me almost contradict myself and say we are working with The New York Yankees and have a local partnership. The Yankees have been very active in helping us get into the local schools. And we are hoping over time that we can spread that to some of the other teams.

Nats320: Are you still involved with Minor League Baseball where there has been steroid testing for quite a few years now?

Don Hooton: Some. In the Minor Leagues, we have learned it’s a different world than the Major Leagues. We are doing some stuff with just a handful on teams. We had hoped to be doing a lot more, but we’ve decided to leave that for the future. We want to reach those kids before they play professional ball.

Nats320: You are here today working with PBATS, the Professional Athletic Trainers for Baseball, what role do they play in your efforts to reduce steroid usage?

Don Hooton: The Athletic Trainers are our biggest partners inside baseball. Their organization, The Professional Baseball Athletic Trainers (PBATS) have picked this up as a project. The subject of performance enhancing drugs is one of their programs they put on for kids. Their program, they call PLAY. So we are very closely partnered. Every time they do one of their PLAY programs, we are there with them to send the message to kids about why they shouldn’t be doing performance enhancing drugs. These guys have been great.

Nats320: Since the first day I met you two years ago, you’ve always been hopeful, even despite a great tragedy to your family. Are you making the progress you really want to see?

Don Hooton: (Nodding his head up and down, lips pursed) I have to be hopeful and I have to be optimistic, but it’s just taking so much more time than it should. That being said, some of the experts that run non-profits in other fields talk about what tremendous progress we have made. It’s hard for me to see that (shrugging) because we’ve got such a steep mountain in front of us. And as we’ve discussed, we’ve got such resistance that I still just don’t understand. But it’s coming one kid at a time and if we save just a handful of kids lives, all of this is worth it. And from what we’ve heard, we’ve probably already done that--but we’ve got a long way to go.

Don Hooton: Everybody wants to deny that kids are doing this. It’s not if they are doing it, it’s a fact. And I am still convinced that one of our biggest challenges is to get people to wake up and realize how many of these kids are dealing with these drugs. Once we get past that hurdle, some of that resistance comes down. But our school officials want to deny the use of the problem as if that will make it go away. And it doesn’t make it go away.

With that final answer Nats320's Conversation With Don Hooton concluded. Mr. Hooton chatted with over 100 kids at Nationals Park during the PBATS "Play" Day for Healthy Lifestyles last week. But clearly there is much, much more work to be done so the tragic loss of Taylor Hooton will not be forgotten.

More on the PBATS "Play" Clinic coming later on Nats320.

All Photos Copyrighted--Nats320--All Rights Reserved

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