Politi: Parents a big part of steroid problem
Wednesday, November 30, 2005
BY STEVE POLITI
New Jersey is taking big steps toward becoming the first state to implement a statewide steroids-testing program for high school students. But after listening to experts discuss the problem yesterday, you started to wonder if this was enough.
Can we test parents, too?
Not for the juice, but for the heaping doses of stupidity pills some are ingesting as their sons and daughters fill their bodies with dangerous chemicals.
This was the most startling revelation at a steroids summit yesterday on the Rutgers campus. We already knew kids were using the junk more than ever. If statistics that suggest steroid use has jumped from one in 45 students in 1993 to one in 16 today aren't enough evidence, then surely the unnaturally large biceps on many teenage athletes are.
It's not just the chiseled football players who are using performance-enhancing drugs, either. Girls on the cross-country team are doing it, and so are non-athletes who are trying to duplicate the perfect bodies they see on magazine covers. Once we accept this, we can get to work on reversing the trend.
This part, however, is unthinkable: The task force has found that some parents not only ignore the warning signs when their teenagers begin using steroids, but tacitly approve if those chemically enhanced bodies attract college recruiters.
"(The parents) say, 'If this will help you pay for college, then just do it until you get a scholarship,'" said Peter King, the Sports Illustrated senior writer who interviewed dozens of current and former high school athletes for the task force. "That pressure from parents does exist in this state and this country."
So the problem isn't just that Mom and Dad aren't looking hard enough in their kids' gym bags. Instead, they're sending the message that excelling on the playing field is important enough to pump those potentially lethal hormones into their bodies.
This is the problem we're facing, and why Acting Gov. Richard Codey formed the 18-member task force to find potential solutions. That group will give its report to Codey tomorrow.
Codey didn't wait for the findings, however, to make it clear where he stands. "We might very well become the first state in the country to have some sort of steroids testing for students statewide," Codey said. "The state has a responsibility to help our schools and parents deal with this alarming trend."
How a state with 425 high schools and 200,000 athletes will pay for all those tests remains a mystery. Codey wouldn't discuss the funding yesterday, saying only that he "didn't see that as a problem in any way, shape or form," even though tests cost $100 each.
One task force member, Collingswood High principal Charles Earling, suggested finding corporate sponsors. Sure, it seems weird on the surface -- "This urine sample is brought to you by ... Sprite! Is it in you? Let's find out!" -- but if companies can pay for a scoreboard, why shouldn't they fund something more important to the well-being of athletes?
Only creative ideas are going to get this done, and something has to get done. Seton Hall Prep headmaster Michael Kelly, who led up this task force, described its findings as "eye-opening."
He talked about athletes rushing home to beat their parents to the mailbox, where an unmarked enveloped filled with steroids from Mexico were waiting. Others had a more effective strategy, opening a post office box where they could safely get illegal drugs.
Finding the stuff is not hard. All it takes it befriending the most muscular guy at the local YMCA or a simple Internet search, and in a few days, the athletes can begin the process of destroying their young bodies, often under their parents' noses.
Ignorance is unacceptable. But what's worse is when adults -- even unknowingly -- push teenagers toward the wrong choices, encouraging them to get bigger or faster with the eyes always focused on reaching the next level.
"We had one kid say, 'If these side effects aren't going to come out until 20 years from now, medicine will come up with something in 20 years to combat those side effects," Kelly said. This is how teenagers think. They take shortcuts.
Taylor Hooton was worried only about making the varsity baseball team when he started taking steroids during his junior year. He got bigger. He got better.
Then a month after his 17th birthday, the Texas teenager hanged himself in his bedroom. "His use of steroids played a significant role in the depression that led to his suicide," his father, Donald Hooton said yesterday during the summit.
The 300 administrators and coaches in the crowd hung on his every word as he spoke. You only wished it were a different group. You wished the room were filled with parents instead..