Original article no longer available
July 21, 2004
(CBS) It’s been all over the news. Athletes – both professional and amateur – have been accused of using steroids to enhance their performance.
That may come as no surprise to some people. But what may be surprising is that the kid next door may be on steroids, too.
Don and Gwen Hooton know that all too well. They say a high school baseball coach told their son, Taylor, that he needed to get bigger. So he decided to take steroids, and he got bigger.
Then, as Correspondent Jim Stewart reported last spring, something snapped, and he took his own life.
For Taylor’s mother, Gwen Hooton, everything changed one morning last July. “I called to him, but he didn’t answer me. So I said, “Well, he must be sleeping”, recalls Gwen, the morning her youngest child died. That’s when I walked up the stairs. And when I turned the corner, there he was. He was hanging on the door with a belt.
Gwen was stunned, but somehow she managed to act. She quickly removed the belt from around Taylor’s neck and used mouth-to-mouth to try and pump the life back into her son.
When I was giving him CPR, all I can remember is this fluttering noise coming out of his mouth, and just praying that he’s going to be OK,” says Gwen. “And all I could think about was making sure he wasn’t dead.”
Paramedics tried to save Taylor, but he was pronounced dead at the hospital. The official cause of death was suicide by hanging. Taylor’s father, Don, immediately began asking why this happened.
“One of the things when you lose anyone through suicide is all of the what ifs,” says Don Hooton. “Why didn’t we see this? What did we miss? What could we have done differently? For some reason, that morning his mind did one of these snaps. And instead of going through a rage and punching a wall, he puts a belt around his neck and ends it.”
It was as tragic a question as any parent could ask, and one the Hootons never, ever, thought they?d be dealing with. Taylor, the youngest of three children, seemed a blessed child, with good looks off the ball field, and a slick curveball on it.
As a high school junior, he was good enough to be a candidate for the varsity baseball squad. But Taylor wanted to be the No. 1 varsity pitcher, and that vanity, his father believes, may have helped kill him.
“One of the coaches told Taylor he needed to get bigger, but didn’t, as best we can tell, back it up with, Well, here’s the exercise program you need to get on. Here’s the diet that you need to be on,” says Don. “Simply told Taylor he needed to get bigger. Apparently, Taylor took those instructions very seriously.”
In Taylor’s hometown of Plano, Texas, high school sports is a very serious business. And from an early age, Taylor already had some big shoes to fill. His cousin, Burt Hooton, was a Major League ballplayer who once pitched a no-hitter. His older brother was a high school star.
Billy Ajello, Taylor’s best friend, says being the top guy meant everything to Taylor, so he went looking for a quick fix: “We were sitting in the back of chemistry class, doing a lab. He kinda mentioned to me. He’s like, “Yeah, I’m thinking about taking steroids.” And I was like, “No high school career is worth taking steroids.”
At 16, Taylor was already big by any standard: 6 feet, 2 inches, and pushing 180 pounds as a junior. But the only way to get even bigger, he figured, was steroids, which were not cheap. They can cost as much as a few hundred dollars for roughly a month’s worth of doses.
So the winter before his death, Taylor did something he’d never done before. He stole. He used his mother’s ATM card, and his girlfriend, Emily Parker, says she went along several times to make the buys: “I’d be in the car when he’d go pick up the steroids from the dealer. And he showed me one time, you know, what it came in, and the needles and stuff. It was clear he was injecting it.”
Where did he buy steroids? “I remember it was right in the front of a gym,” says Parker.
Taylor may have been injecting himself as often as three times a week. Like any hard-core drug, steroids alter the body”s chemistry, boosting muscle development and growth. And that’s just what Taylor wanted: big muscles, like his idols in the Majors.
Ajello says he couldn’t believe his eyes when he saw his friend working out at the gym.
“He’s doing three sets of 10, three sets of 12 and just doing it like it’s nothing,” recalls Ajello, who said to himself, “Whoa. Like, you know, this stuff really works.”
But the side effects on Taylor’s mind and body were transforming him into someone no one had ever seen before. Taylor’s face had puffed up, and during the spring, he gained nearly 30 pounds and developed a severe case of acne on his back.
He also began exhibiting what are commonly known as “roid rages.” “He’d get mad easily and aggravated,” recalls Parker, his girlfriend. “He would say they were making him rage and everything. But it was just a different person.”
“He went from a calm person, like we’re talking now, to these rages, yelling and screaming, and hittin’ on the table, and stompin’ out of the room,” says Gwen Hooton. “Totally un-Taylor like. And then, 15 minutes later, he’d come in and sit down. “Oh, I?m so sorry I acted like that. I promise I won’t do it again.”
But these mood swings went beyond those of a normal adolescent. The Hootons began to suspect he was using some illicit drug, but when they had him tested that spring, he was clean. They learned later that a search for steroids was not part of that test.
At the time, though, they simply thought Taylor needed professional help, so they sent him to see Dr. Babette Farkas, a psychiatrist.
Dr. Farkas said that at first, it was hard for Taylor. But then, he began to open up. What was her diagnosis?
“Major depression. At that point in time, I’d actually took a detailed interview and found out that he was using anabolic steroids,” says Farkas, who believes that steroid usage contributed to Taylor’s depression.
Farkas says that Taylor told her he was stacking — taking multiple steroids orally and by injection at the same time, hoping that they’d achieve better results.
And, it turns out, he was doing them right under his parents’ nose. Did Gwen ever suspect that her son was using steroids?
“Oh yeah, we went up to his room, and I did find some big white pills,” says Gwen. I said, “What are these big white pills” “Oh, they’re nothing.” I said, “Well, we’re gonna throw ’em away.” “They’re vitamins, or something like that,” he told me…
But they weren’t vitamins. His mother says they were probably nutritional supplements to help him bulk up even more. And it was a deadly brew, especially for someone dealing with the usual ups and downs of adolescence.
Dr. Farkas told Taylor to quit, and she helped him tell his mom the truth. Then she prescribed an anti-depressant.
“I put him on Lexapro in low dose, knowing that there was the depression from the steroid use as well as the probability that, as he came off of them, he was going to be even more depressed, in a child who had some self-esteem issues and some self-confidence issues,” says Farkas. “He had quit the steroids, to my knowledge. And that’s what he reported.”
Taylor was entering a critical period. Why? By then, the steroids would have suppressed his body’s natural ability to produce testosterone. So once he quit, it could take weeks, even months, to get things back up to speed again.
It is well documented in medical literature that when someone goes off steroids, testosterone levels are low and depression ? sometimes severe — can set in.
And it was during this time, on a family vacation to London, when Taylor stole again. It happened two weeks before his death.
His parents found computer equipment in his luggage and decided to crack down. When they got home, they took away the keys to his beloved truck, and confiscated his cell phone. He took it hard. The next morning, Taylor came looking for his mom.
“He got up about 9 a.m. And I’m sitting here on the sofa and he came in and sat by me. And we’re sitting close to each other. And he goes, “Mom, please, please, I’ll sign a contract. I’ll do anything. Please, please don’t let me be grounded. I promise I won’t do anything again,” says Gwen.
I said, “You know, Taylor, this time you really have to be grounded.” So he reached over like this and grabbed my hand. And he squeezed it. And he went upstairs.
Barely one month after his birthday, Taylor, 17, went to his room, buckled two belts together, fastened one end to his bedroom door and wrapped the other end around his neck. Then, he hanged himself.
The police searched his room and discovered a photograph with his own face cut out. On the floor they found a note that read: “I love you guys. I’m sorry about everything.” Wrapped in an American flag in his nightstand was a vial of hard-core anabolic steroids.
In hindsight, does Dr. Farkas think the steroids played a role in Taylor’s death? “Yes. No doubt in my mind,” says Farkas.
However, Taylor wasn’t the only one who used steroids. One nationwide study shows that nearly half a million adolescents have tried them. And in Plano, Texas, a small sampling shows that nearly 100 kids have used them.
Now, Don Hooton wants to know what people are doing about it: “I have not seen an interest in taking responsibility for this problem and taking active steps to stop it.”
Larry Guinn is in charge of health and athletics for the Plano schools. He was designated to speak to 60 Minutes for the school system.
He says his district provides an easy target for blame: This is not a school problem, you know? This is much bigger than this. This is a societal problem. It’s a community problem that’s pervasive in our society with professional athletes, with college athletes, right on down.”
“It is our responsibility and I’ll sit right here and say it,” says Don Hooton. “But at the same time, the guy that’s making the decision on who makes the team, who’s not making the team, that guy’s got a lot more influence on my kid and his behavior on that field and how he’s working out, and what’s important to him from an athletic standpoint than Mom or Dad ever will.”
Don doesn’t accuse any coaches of directly instructing Taylor or his teammates to take steroids. The coaches have said publicly that they caution against it and advocate better fitness through proper diet and conditioning.
Guinn says that coaches have a responsibility to keep kids off steroids: “I think they have a special role, and I think it’s important for them. And I think our coaches do. And our athletic director will make sure that they do know that we need to send a message that steroids is not appropriate.”
He also points out that Plano students are already taught about the dangers of steroids. And he questions how bad a problem steroid abuse in the Plano schools really is right now.
“It depends on your definition of a problem. If we got one youngster doing it, yes. We’ve got a problem,” says Guinn. “But are we doing enough? Probably not. But we’re trying, OK?”
For now, Gwen and Don Hooton are trying to focus on just one thing: using Taylor?s death to try and prevent another steroid-induced suicide.
“He’s gone. And it’s devastating. We’ll never get over it,” says Don. “And the only way I know to deal with it is to intellectually try to deal with it as to what happened. And then, once we’ve learned it, is to ring the warning bell so that nobody else has to go through what we’ve gone through.”