Little League Baseball plans to introduce an educational program for coaches and volunteers intended to raise awareness about the use and dangers of performance-enhancing drugs among young players.
Working with the Taylor Hooton Foundation, Little League hopes to have an online program ready for the 2014 season. The youth sports organization had been in discussions with the foundation for more than a year about such a program, well before Major League Baseball announced suspensions recently for more than a dozen players following a lengthy investigation into a Florida anti-aging clinic accused of distributing PEDs.
The most recent batch of suspensions handed down Aug. 5 came less than two weeks before the start of the Little League World Series, which is scheduled to begin Thursday. Thousands of coaches, along with young players and their families are expected to visit South Williamsport during the 11-day tournament, and foundation president Don Hooton plans to attend, too, to spread his awareness message in person.
"This is a teachable moment. Ever parent, every coach should take the opportunity of all these suspensions to sit down and talk to your kids about why they shouldn't be involved in performance-enhancing drugs," Hooton said in a recent phone interview.
His 17-year-old son Taylor — a cousin of former big league pitcher Burt Hooton — committed suicide in July 2003. Doctors attributed Taylor's behavior to depression that occurred when he stopped using performance-enhancing drugs.
More than 2.4 million boys and girls play Little League baseball and softball, according to the organization that also has roughly 1 million volunteers.
The Hooton Foundation works with Major League Baseball, as well as local athletic leagues. A program with Little League would give the foundation an even broader audience.
"We are extraordinarily excited about this," he said. "As much work as we've done over the past 10 years, this offers the largest single audience to our message, to reach out at one time."
Citing various studies, Hooton has estimated 1 million to 1.5 million adolescents in the United States have used steroids.
A separate study released in May jointly commissioned by the foundation, the Baseball Hall of Fame and the Professional Baseball Athletic Trainers Society said that American adults ranked steroid use among adolescents as less of a problem than alcohol, bullying, marijuana and sexually transmitted diseases.
The survey of 1,002 adults conducted by The Gallup Organization last fall found that 97 percent of the respondents believed steroids caused negative health effects, while just 19 percent thought steroid use was a big problem among high school students. The study developed by University of Massachusetts researchers had a margin of error of 4.3 percent.
Little League President Stephen Keener said the recent surveys helped stir interest.
"What was discovered ... was a huge amount of ignorance on the subject among parents and even coaches at the high school level and below," Keener said. "As an organization that is interested in the development of children beyond the game ... perhaps we have some obligation to educate parents and Little League coaches."
The key, Keener said, is telling the truth to children if they have questions about the discipline announced for players including Milwaukee Brewers star slugger Ryan Braun.
Young players should be told that what was done "is wrong and here are the consequences of it. You are seeing highly visible, high-profile baseball players jeopardize their own health and paying a huge price from their livelihoods and how they are perceived publicly."
The Little League World Series begins with an opening ceremony Thursday before Panama and Puerto Rico play the first game of the 2013 tournament.