Opinion column: Move on?

By Mike Szwaja

On Thursday morning, U.S. Representative Candice Miller of Michigan’s 10th District was on the same page as many of the baseball fans in this country. She wasn’t so sure that Congress getting involved in the steroid controversy was the best idea, as she revealed during Thursday’s General Reform Committee hearing on steroids.

But Rep. Miller said what sold her on the idea was hearing the stories of Rob Garibaldi and Taylor Hooton – two amateur athletes who committed suicide after intense steroid use.

Denise and Ray Garibaldi, Rob’s parents, shared their story with the committee. They explained that Rob was a baseball star at USC and hoped to one day play major league baseball. They also revealed that Barry Bonds was always Rob’s favorite player. Rob routinely watched slow motion tapes of Bonds’ swing so that he could try to emulate it, his father said Thursday morning.

Denise would later explain that Rob told her he was on steroids because Bonds was on steroids. She said her son would tell her, “I’m not on drugs, I’m a ballplayer. If Bonds does it, then I have to do it.”

Rob would later assault his father and threaten suicide, which landed him in the Emergency Services in Santa Rosa, Cal. on involuntary hold. Southern California coaches later excused Rob from the team because of his aggressive behavior. Rob’s suicide followed.

Donald Hooton Sr. was also present Thursday morning, and he explained how he believed steroids led his 17-year-old son Taylor to suicide. Donald said Taylor’s high school baseball coach told his son he needed to get bigger if he wanted to play college baseball. Taylor stood 6-foot-3-inches tall and weighed 175 pounds at the time, Donald said.

While Donald refused to say the coach was subtly encouraging Taylor to get on steroids as soon as possible, Donald did admit the coach’s words and advice played a crucial role in Taylor’s steroid use.

Taylor turned to steroids, and like Rob, became an extremely aggressive person. Taylor would eventually stop taking steroids, but his father said Thursday morning the depression that resulted after giving the drugs up played a major role in Taylor’s suicide.

I tuned in Thursday morning to hear what Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa had to say; I didn’t expect to hear the moving stories of Rob Garibaldi and Taylor Hooton. But I did, and just like Rep. Miller, I understood why the steroid issue has become a congressional issue. Any time adolescents start killing themselves, the issue becomes greater and more significant than cheating, asterisks in record books or steroid clauses in contracts.

Early in her opening statement, Denise Garibaldi called Bonds a “liar.” Donald Hooton Sr. told the committee he was “sick and tired” of hearing athletes say they aren’t role models. Those are some strong sentiments, but when they come from grieving parents, they just seem to mean a little more, hit you a little harder.

All three parents said they firmly believe that had baseball stars – role models for young men like Ray Garibaldi and Taylor Hooton – spoken out against steroids in an organized setting, their sons would still be alive today.

The baseball steroid issue has evolved into an issue of teen depression and suicide. Hearing the words of the Garibaldis and Donald Hooton Sr. was depressing, yet enthralling at the same time. Never did I think a congressional hearing would turn me away from the first day of the NCAA Tournament, but I was wrong.

Barry Bonds has repeatedly urged members of the media to move on and forget about steroids during the last month. Sorry, Barry, we can’t do that.

Kids are killing themselves, and their parents are blaming you. Knowing that, how is it you can move on?