Spring is here and soon enough you'll be penciling in baseball practices, games, and team events. It is the life of a baseball parent, dedicated to helping your child take a shot at those big league dreams while learning valuable lessons about team, cooperation, and responsibility. In big league ballparks all across the country major leaguers are dealing with a few lessons of their own, lessons that may have an effect on your young ballplayers and how they view the game of baseball.
Performance enhancing drugs, long whispered about in professional sports have been brought to the forefront as never before over these last few years. Turning from a simmer to a boil over the last few weeks as Baseball's hope for a pure and unstained Home Run King, Alex Rodriguez fell in scandal at the revelation that he had tested positive for primobolan and testosterone in the supposed anonymous survey testing used in 2003 by Major League Baseball to determine if 10% of active players tested positive which would have triggered wider testing and harsher penalties. That survey produced 104 positive tests, Mr. Rodriguez's included, and as Baseball tries to heal after last year's release of the Mitchell Report which investigated Baseball's now infamous "Steroid Era" and linked 86 current and former Major League Players with steroids, human growth hormones and other performance enhancing drugs those other 103 names hang out there, sealed in evidence for a federal trial that was never supposed to be retained much less revealed.
The "Mitchell Report" also sought to highlight the influence this scandal has had on Americas children and young amateur athletes citing a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention National Institute on Drug Abuse survey which showed that 3 to 6 percent of high school athletes had used steroids, a decline over previous studies but a still startling number. The report also went on to quote Don Hooton's 2005 congressional testimony in which he said: "I believe the poor example being set by professional athletes is a major catalyst fueling the high usage of steroids amongst our kids. Our kids look up to these guys. They want to do the things the pros do to be successful." Mr. Hooton, has served as a strong voice in the fight against the illegal use of steroids since the death of his son Taylor. Creating the Taylor Hooton Foundation in 2004 after his 17 year old son committed suicide while abusing anabolic steroids. The foundation which describes it's mission statement as "Abolishing performance enhancing drugs through evaluation, education and elimination." has become nationally recognized as a leader and ally of parents and coaches in this fight by the power of their message. His recent appearance at Alex Rodriguez's apologetic press conference may speak to a future collaboration between the two utilizing Rodriguez's star power and the interest in his steroid revelation to highlight Mr. Hooton's brave initiative.
It is regrettable though that Mr. Hooton, his endeavor, and his words in front of Congress have not received nearly the same level of coverage that the Rodriguez revelation and the Congressional testimony and ongoing soap opera of Roger Clemens and other players pursuit of acquittal have garnered. The overexposure and media saturation that has taken place right before the eyes of this media savvy generation has become more then must see TV. Legend after legend soiled by hard proof or speculation and even those who have escaped the allegations are effected by the overall taint of this issue. In the wake of all this we have to wonder how we can steer our kids from following their idols and indulging in these dangerous substances? Furthermore we have to wonder who exactly is a suitable "hero" for our children?
It used to be safe to worship a pro athlete back when the cameras shut off and mysteries remained, but now athletics seem filled to the brim with criminals and cheaters broadcast 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. And while many will correctly say that parents and coaches are the best role model a child can have, one cannot ignore the magical bond the idea of a professional athlete has with the imagination of a young boy or girl. I recall as a child growing up in Long Island, NY worshiping New York Yankees First Baseman Don Mattingly, and though I learned how to be a respectful and responsible person from my parents and others around me, it was New York Yankees First Baseman Don Mattingly who I most wanted to be as a child, mimicking his batting stances, wearing his number, and playing his position. There was even an ill fated attempt to become a left handed hitter which surely would have worked if not for my damning lack of natural athletic ability. Such innocence seems worlds away now. Fifteen years ago nobody knew Don Mattingly's inner demons or failings. His only whiff of a scandal coming when his hair was deemed too long for the Yankees strict grooming code. Mattingly was a ballplayer, not a celebrity. An athlete whose hard work got him to where he was, his methods above reproach.
Things have changed now, athletes no matter there reputation are everywhere from sneakers to video games and breakfast cereals. Their performances and pratfalls splashed across the front page of the morning paper and all over the news. Try as we might to pay attention our lives are so hectic that its hard to keep up with the daily soap opera that the sports world has become. But to kids it is still a game and many of the words and accusations swirling around may not be understandable. Two common words that have been used to describe these players are very understandable to kids though, "liar", and "cheater". So how do we deal with the inevitable questions that this situation will bring, and how do we try to eliminate any inclination impressionable minds may have to follow in the footsteps of athletes who chose the wrong path? As coaches, mentors, and parents how do we separate the innocence of a game from some of its complex and flawed participants and show our children the right path in keeping with the morals we want them to uphold?
As a parent you may have to convey to your child the seriousness of an athletes indiscretion and the consequences they will face while highlighting the many players who have been above suspicion and seem to do things the right way as a contrast. And while there are some instances when no concrete evidence exists or perhaps due to an athletes profile it seems no punishment will be delved out these represent a minority and are grey areas that many young fans may not be equipped to comprehend. In those instances we must rely on those tried and true lessons of right and wrong to simplify matters. Even the grey areas must be made black and white sometimes. Through it all though be sensitive to your child's dreams and fantasies, this athlete is a hero to them just like Carl Yastrzemski or Cal Ripken Jr. were to you so while trying to teach remember not to totally vilify the player unless the situation absolutely merits it. That poster will probably stay up on the wall but your child will know that all adults, even baseball players make bad decisions and pay consequences.
Of course older children, and teens will require a more grown up and reasoned approach. To them things may seem less clear cut as they are old enough to see the absurdity of a multi millionaire star athlete admitting to cheating, holding a press conference and continuing on unscathed. They may also believe that they can escape detection and or punishment as many professional's apparently have for years. Luckily cold hard facts and resources are available to you on government websites such as www.steroidabuse.gov and the website for the Taylor Hooton Foundation, www.taylorhooton.org in relation to the myriad of medical issues that come with steroid abuse. From reproductive issues, acne, hair loss, enhanced cancer risks, and hormonal changes including but not limited to depression those facts alone should help deter your young athlete from experimenting with steroids.
As is always the case though communication is the key. Keep the lines of dialogue open not only with your child on this issue but with there teachers and coaches as well. Inform your child's coach about your concerns and ask them to keep you involved and notified of anything that could raise suspicion. In the end with a little hard work you can steer your child clear of the effects of these bad examples and they can learn an important lesson the right way, from you the most everlasting hero they will ever have.