FROM TRAGEDY TO TRIUMPH: DON HOOTON DEDICATES HIS LIFE TO COMBATING PED USE

By PBATS staff writers

Don Hooton enjoyed a long and successful career in the telecommunications industry. After beginning his professional journey with Bell South, Don quickly found success through various roles with suppliers providing equipment to the industry, allowing him to travel the world representing very high priced, complex software packages. Then, one day, tragedy struck that changed Don’s professional and personal life forever.

In 2003, Don’s son, an accomplished athlete and high school baseball star, committed suicide. In the weeks following, Don and his family were to find out that experts concluded his son’s suicide stemmed from a deep depression – depression that was a direct result of his use of anabolic steroids. Needless to say, Don’s family was shocked at the discovery, with no previous evidence to suggest that his son was using performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs). What’s more, Don’s son certainly wasn’t an isolated case.

“Having grown up around baseball, we knew all of the families we’d sit around and attend games with, our friends; they were just as shocked as we were by how many kids were using these drugs,” said Hooton.

In the midst of grief and personal turmoil, Don decided to take action. Six weeks after his son Taylor’s death, Don gave a talk to roughly 600 friends and neighbors at his son’s high school, warning about the dangers of performance enhancing drugs and the hidden epidemic facing high school athletes today – an epidemic that so many people were unaware of. Then, news outlets across the country began picking up the story and a national conversation began to take place.

“We thought we had walked into a lack of knowledge [about the issue] by people in our local community, but in reality we walked into an information vacuum nationally. The general public is oblivious to the fact that there are so many kids doing these drugs,” Hooton recalled.

Shortly after, Don dedicated his life to the subject full time by launching the Taylor  Hooton Foundation, dedicated to educating kids. Through his work with the foundation, Don had the opportunity to testify in congressional hearings during the Major League Baseball steroid scandal. The MLB commissioner at the time was so inspired by Don’s personal story that he called the day after the hearing to offer the support of Major League Baseball, now the leading corporate sponsor of the Taylor Hooton Foundation. From the very beginning of this special partnership, it was clear to both the foundation and the MLB that the best course of action was to conduct education programs for kids at Major League ballparks across the country.

Although Don has a special penchant for baseball, he says the problem is far from only a baseball issue. “I’m not sure why exactly baseball gets more focus; steroid abuse is a problem in virtually every other sport. There are a number of different opinions as to why baseball got caught in the spotlight, but it did,” said Hooton. “But, with a few exceptions, our primary work is focused on educating kids. We are not trying to solve this problem in any professional sport; we are trying to prevent kids from experimenting with these drugs in the first place.”

Through his work with the foundation, Don has emerged as a leading national expert on the topic of PED abuse, a problem that is actually growing beyond the realm of sports. “It’s a mistake to think of this problem as just a baseball or sports issue, because that’s just not the truth anymore. In fact, body image is the primary reason kids cite for using PEDs these days. It’s about getting bigger, faster, looking better,” says Hooton. “It may have started in the locker room, but what the other boys in school have learned is, ‘Hey, if the studs on the sports teams are getting all of this attention, I can too.’” Moreover, Don has the statistics to back the claim. According to the foundation, 7 percent of current high school students admit to using PEDs. For high school boys that identify as gay or bisexual, the number is significantly higher, 21 percent. In addition, the fastest-growing user group today is young D girls. But what’s most alarming is that 85 percent of current students report that no one has ever talked to them directly about perfomance-enhancing drugs. It’s alarming statistics like these that make the work of the Taylor Hooton Foundation so important – and partnerships with organizations such as PBATS are integral to helping spread awareness and education.

“Out of all the different types of professionals we work with, athletic trainers are our favorite. The reason is they get it, they deal with athletes all the time, they understand the pressures that they’re under, they are the medical professionals of the sports community,” said Hooton. “They more than any other folks in sporting organizations understand the full range of dangers associated with these drugs, both for athletes and nonathletes.”

Don has no intention of slowing down anytime soon. The Taylor Hooton Foundation recently claimed a significant milestone by reaching more than 1 million kids. In addition, the foundation is in its third year of partnering with the state of Rhode Island to provide PED education programs at every middle school, high school and college in the state. The foundation also continues to strengthen its partnerships with PBATS and the MLB. Nearly two years ago, the foundation approached the MLB about tapping athletes to commit to fair play through an idea called the “All Me League.” The program utilizes professional baseball players to help get kids to adopt a mindset of “when I step out onto the field, you’re competing with me, all me, no drugs.” Major League Baseball supported the idea and would consider it a success if five players participated. After its first year, the program had at least one player representative from every single MLB franchise.To learn more, visit taylorhooton.org or Allmeleague.com.

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