On the list was Fred McGriff, a five-time All-Star, a two-time home run champion and a major contributor to the mid-1990s Braves team that created a division-winning dynasty and, in 1995, won the World Series.
“We were looking for someone who played the game the right way to be part of our board of directors,” said Hooton, the president of the foundation. “Someone to give us guidance, someone that was an inspiration to our game.”
McGriff seemed like a perfect target. Not only did he put together a sterling resume during his 19-year career with 493 home runs and 1,550 RBIs, but he also was known within baseball circles, and nationally, as a prime example of a Hall of Fame-caliber who was never connected to performance-enhancing drugs.
The pairing did indeed come to fruition. Recently, the Taylor Hooton Foundation — a nonprofit organization dedicated to educating young people about the dangers of anabolic steroids and other appearance- and performance-enhancing substances — announced that McGriff has joined its board of directors.
“If you can help a few kids, that’s the whole thing — trying to help and educate the younger generation,” McGriff said. “That’s how it all started. I decided to come on the board, being part of it, help spread the word.”
McGriff hopes to influence not only kids, but also their parents, who are often as culpable when poor decisions lead to PED use. McGriff would like the education process to be all-inclusive.
“Kids can hear the word and their parents can hear the word, but some parents are on a mission,” he said. “They can say, ‘Yea, I hear you, but I’m looking for a payday.’
“Hopefully they can keep pushing along and educate the parents. It’s not just baseball. It’s volleyball, basketball, all different sports. Everybody wants to get bigger and stronger. But with a little hard work, you can be a talented player without steroids.”
The foundation was founded in 2004 by friends and family of Taylor Hooton after his untimely death at 17 following his use of anabolic steroids.
Donald Hooton’s first contact with McGriff, coincidentally, was initiated somewhat unwittingly by McGriff. While Hooton pondered the best method to get a hold of McGriff to gauge his interest in joining the board, an email popped up on the foundation’s website.
It was from McGriff.
He was interested in obtaining an “All Me” T-shirt after seeing photos of other ballplayers wearing them. The “All Me” League is an offshoot of the foundation, aimed to showcase the support of professional athletes and teams to eradicate PED use.
After some back and forth (Hooton sent McGriff a T-shirt; McGriff sent photos of him wearing the T-shirt), Hooton asked McGriff if he had any interest in joining the foundation’s board of directors. The two met for lunch in Tampa, Fla., where McGriff lives, and a partnership was formed.
“I was really excited to have a chance to talk with him,” Hooton said. “Just in the first couple minutes sitting down and having lunch, you could tell he was a guy that this topic meant a great deal to him. And it’s something he’s passionate about — to be able to inspire young kids how to play the game the right way, that they can make it to the pinnacle of the sport without drugs, just like he did.”
In addition to a board of directors made up of athletic trainers, sports nutritionists, dieticians, child health advocates and pro sports executives, dozens of current Major Leaguers serve as advisory board members of the All Me League.
Hooton travels to all 30 Major League ballparks every year and works with PBATS — The Professional Baseball Athletic Trainers Society — to promote healthy lifestyles for young people. For years, PBATS has sponsored a community outreach program called PLAY (Promoting a Lifetime of Activity for Youth), which includes on-field clinics with athletic trainers and current Major League players. In more recent years, the Taylor Hooton Foundation has become a partner of that program.
The foundation also has an in-school presence, through its All Me assembly programs that takes them to middle schools, high schools and colleges.
“It’s because of Major League Baseball that we’ve been able to grow, that we’ve been able to affect 2 million lives throughout education programs and awareness outreach,” Hooton said. “To see us get another 38 current Major League Baseball players behind the message we’re trying to get out to young people is extremely powerful.
“And then you have a guy like Fred McGriff that reaches out and says, ‘I’d like to be a part of this, too.’ It’s hard to believe we’ve come this far, but I think we’ve just barely scratched the surface with how many people need to be reached.”