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When Texas began testing high school athletes for performance enhancing drugs in 2007, one official boasted, "We're going to test more kids than the NCAA and the Olympics."
$10 million later, Texas is considering discontinuing the program after the first 19,000 tests caught only nine steroid users. Don Hooton of the Taylor Hooton Foundation joined Bill Littlefield to discuss steroid use among high school athletes.
BL: Don, let's begin by talking about how you got involved in the issue of steroid abuse.
Kids, or athletes in general, find the tests pretty easy to beat.Dan Hooton, Taylor Hooton Foundation
And the long and short of it is Taylor began injecting himself with two different types of anabolic steroids, and seven months later he died. And as parents, we were shocked — shocked to find out how dangerous these drugs could be, probably even more shocked to find out how many kids across this country are, even today, playing with these drugs.
BL: The Texas plan for testing students for steroid use has been criticized as at once too expensive and also, curiously enough, inadequate in that students aren’t tested for a lot of the particular steroids they may be using. Is that legitimate criticism ?
DH: Yes it is. I was a big supporter of this bill and worked with the lieutenant governor at the time. At one level, it's worth whatever dollars are required to put a program in place from where I sit. But, if the program isn't implemented properly, what happens is what we've seen in Texas: you wind up defeating the purpose of the program because nobody tested positive.
BL: Well, let me play devil's advocate on that one. Given how few students have tested positive, what's the evidence that high school athletes are using steroids in large numbers?
DH: Well, let me refer you to the most recent numbers that we have, which was a study done by the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids. It was published last summer, and it is one of a series of studies that tag the usage rate amongst the general high school population nationally at seven percent of the total high school population. And you put on top of that something we didn't test for, which is human growth hormone. We've got 11 percent of our high school students nationally that admit that they've used human growth hormone.
So kids, or athletes in general, find the tests pretty easy to beat. One thing you might do: go on the computer and type in the words, "how to beat a steroid test," and I think you will be overwhelmed with the number of products and instructions that are available to pass one of these tests even under the best of circumstances.
BL: Well, given the situation that you've described, what should Texas — and by extension other states — learn from the program in Texas?
[sidebar title="Safety Recommendations For High School Sports" align="right"]Between 20 and 30 high school athletes die while playing sports in the U.S. each year, estimates researcher Doug Casa. Casa outlines the steps the National Association of Athletic Trainers is taking to protect high school athletes from preventable deaths.[/sidebar]DH: What we need to learn is the only real weapon we have in our arsenal is education. But sadly, 85 percent of our children, nationally, report that they've never had an adult — no coach, no teacher, no parent, no one — I mean, we talk to them about heroin, marijuana and alcohol, but we are investing minimal resources in teaching our kids why they need to be staying away from this junk.
BL: If a coach says to a youngster, 15-, 16-year-old kid, "You need to get bigger and stronger," is the kid necessarily going to hear that as, "I've got to get some steroids?" Is that still where we are?
DH: No. I don't — and I'm glad you brought that back up — I don't mean to infer that the coaches are encouraging the kids to use these drugs. I'm sure we've got some out there that are doing it, but that's the exception to the rule. But when we do coaches' training, we try to explain to the coaches, you know, when old guys like me were in school, when you're told to get bigger and faster and stronger, the only things at your disposal were mashed potatoes and green beans and eating some more roast beef that mom is giving you.
But the reality is, today these kids have easy, easy access to illegal drugs and substances that can be very, very harmful to their health and their mental well-being in both the short and the long-term.
BL: Travis Tygart, head of the U.S. Anti Doping Agency, was quoted last week saying it's "a joke" that Texans are willing to spend $60 million on a single high school football stadium, but they don't want to spend a fraction of that on protecting the health and safety of athletes. That stadium is just down the road from you, as I understand it, so I'm wondering how you feel about Mr. Tygart's assessment there?[sidebar title="The $60 Million Dollar Stadium" width="630" align="right"]Everything's bigger in Texas, even football stadiums. In 2010, Only A Game's Karen Given asked residents of Allen, Texas why they were willing to spend so much to support their football team. [/sidebar]
DH: Oh, I completely agree with him. Somehow, our, you know, leaders, just can't figure out how to come up with the funds to wrestle a problem like this, but we don't blink an eye when providing bigger and better facilities. Travis Tygart's right. We've got our priorities in this country upside-down when it comes to our kids.
BL: I can't help but wonder if building a $60 million high school stadium is in some ways saying to kids, "Hey, you know this game you're playing is important enough so that you ought to do anything you have to do to get better to play it."
DH: Bill, I think you're exactly right. You're reading the cards properly. That is one of a number of messages — you know, just think about kids that are being asked when they're 10 or 11 to specialize. On one level, it's great to encourage your kids, but combine that with a trip to the supplement store to convince them that there's a solution in a bottle that will make them better.
I mean, I could go on ad infinitum with all of the different, crazy signals that we're sending our children. Then a $60 million football stadium is an awful-strong message about where our priorities are and what's important to mom and dad and the taxpayers in our communities.
This story aired on March 28, 2015.
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