Shortcut to Tragedy

By Glenn Cook

The first word that comes to his mind is "devastating." And then, for a moment, Don Hooton pauses to consider his answer, one he never thought he would have to give.

"There's just no way to describe what it has been like," Hooton says of the year that has passed since his teenage son committed suicide. "It's terrible. People ask me or tell me, 'Don, I just can't imagine how hard this thing is on you.' And my response to that, even today, is 'I can't imagine it either.'"

He has relived his son's life and death thousands of times since July 15, 2003, the day 17-year-old Taylor killed himself in his room. A popular and promising student athlete at Plano West Senior High School outside Dallas, Taylor had used anabolic steroids as a shortcut to self-esteem and athletic success. Instead, the side effects -- depression, feelings of helplessness, extreme mood swings -- led him to take his life.

Hooton knows now that Taylor's feelings are common signs of a person who stops using a performance-enhancing drug, especially one so physically and psychologically addictive. He also knows that, like a growing number of teenage athletes, his son was looking for an easy way to bulk up for the upcoming season and a possible college scholarship. But Hooton questions whether parents, coaches, and school administrators know what to look for, and he has made it a personal crusade to help others see the signs he and his wife missed.

Now, six years after researchers started pointing to disturbing increases in steroid and supplement use among high school students, politicians and professional athletes are becoming part of the same crusade. As criminal investigations swirl around professional baseball players and Olympic athletes accused of using performance-enhancing drugs, legislators in California and Florida are considering bills that would force districts to implement drug-testing programs for high school athletes. 

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