Taylor Hooton Foundation refuses check from Alex Rodriguez, ready to move on without him
He is 64 years old and comes from McKinney, Tex., outside Dallas, and he will bring his crusade against youth steroid use to Little Falls, N.J. Tuesday morning, and has no plan to bring up the subject of The Check He Would Not Cash.
What would be the point? It isn’t part of the deeper message that Don Hooton will share to kids and ADs and trainers and assorted others at the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center.
It will have no impact on his passion for the cause — one he has fought unflaggingly for 11 years, since his son, Taylor, committed suicide after using steroids.
For Don Hooton, it is simply a matter of honor, and doing the right thing. Being in the non-profit orbit, Hooton is not ordinarily in the habit of turning down nickels or dimes, let alone checks with multiple zeroes at the end of them, but this was easy.
“How could we accept Alex Rodriguez’s money?” Hooton said. “Wouldn’t that be extremely hypocritical?” You ask Hooton about his thoughts about Rodriguez, who, amid much fanfare and apparent sincerity, joined forces with the Taylor Hooton Foundation back in 2009, when Rodriguez was first outed as a steroid cheat and of course said it had all been a terrible mistake and he would prove it from that moment forward, not only by being clean but by working alongside Don Hooton to fight the scourge that cost Don Hooton a son.
Rodriguez would make appearances, speak from the heart and donate money, putting his outsized fame and fortune to the best possible use. Don’t take foolish risks with your body, Rodriguez would say. Don’t take shortcuts and risk disgrace to your name, or health consequences down the line, Rodriguez would warn.
It all turned out to be a massive fraud, like Rodriguez’s muscles and records and lawsuits. The Taylor Hooton Foundation officially terminated the relationship when Rodriguez was suspended for the 2014 season. By the time one last Rodriguez check showed up in Hooton’s mail last January, right around the time Rodriguez was detailing all of his PED use to federal agents, it felt as hollow as a wiffle ball bat.
“We’re not here to pile on,” Hooton said. “But to call it a betrayal is an understatement.
“It was bad enough that all that Biogenesis stuff came down. Then he admits he was using the whole time we had him out in front of kids, and that made it that much more disappointing.
“And you know what makes it such a shame?” Hooton said. “Alex did a wonderful job working for us. The kids loved him.”
Hooton would much prefer to turn his energy to positive developments. Active players from 21 big-league teams are now serving as an advisory board to the Taylor Hooton Foundation (Brett Gardner and Dillon Gee are the reps from the Yankees and Mets), and Hooton hopes to get commitments from the remaining nine teams before long. Hooton is encouraged about a steroid-prevention program the foundation is implementing in middle schools and high schools in Rhode Island, and that the New Jersey state legislature is moving forward on a bill to make prevention programs and random drug-testing for high-school athletes a permanent part of the state’s anti-PED initiatives.
Hooton would love nothing more than for the foundation to be out of business, but even as people naively talk about the steroid era, especially in baseball, as if it were a relic of the past, the evidence suggests otherwise. A study last summer by the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids reported that 11% of high school students have tried HGH at least once. It put the use of steroids among high school students at 7%.
“Nobody wants to believe it is their kid. Nobody wants to believe this is still going on, but it is,” Hooton said. It will be the core message Don Hooton aims to deliver at Yogi Berra’s museum Tuesday morning. He hopes it gets through, and that the subject of Alex Rodriguez’s check doesn’t even come up.