Lessons we should take from testimony

Any parents watching or reading about the testimony given at
Thursday’s baseball steroid hearings in Washington ought to make
one promise to themselves. If one of their children ever comes home
from a tryout or practice saying,

Coach wants me to put on 20 lbs.,

they better go straight to that coach or other relevant
authorities and confront them.
Any parents watching or reading about the testimony given at Thursday’s baseball steroid hearings in Washington ought to make one promise to themselves. If one of their children ever comes home from a tryout or practice saying, “Coach wants me to put on 20 lbs.,” they better go straight to that coach or other relevant authorities and confront them. Because it’s exactly those kind of demands that are pressuring kids into using performance enhancing drugs.

Let’s stop being naive about this situation. Let’s stop being passive enablers of steroid use. Let’s stop pretending we don’t know where, in so many cases, those extra 20 lbs. of muscle are going to come from on still-developing bodies. Or the toll the steroids, the andro, the human growth hormone and the rest of the pharmaceutical grab bag can take on our kids.

At Thursday’s hearings, amidst the disingenuousness and dissembling of the All-Star panels of players and baseball officials, the grief of three sets of parents whose children had committed suicide after taking steroids shined through.

Denise and Ray Garibaldi, Donald Hooton and Frank and Brenda Marrero described the destructive paths their sons had traveled in their young baseball careers. The pressure from peers, coaches and professional scouts to get bigger, faster, stronger. The warning signs that Rob Garibaldi, Taylor Hooten and Efrain Marrero exhibited, only to be ignored or understood too late to save their lives.

The testimony of several medical experts on the dangers of steroid use built the scientific groundwork for the parents’ arguments. Abuse of performance enhancing drugs does correlate very strongly with the side effects we all have heard about – excessive acne, depression, difficulty controlling emotions and assorted risks to a user’s immune system and organs. All but the direct physical dangers are also typical traits in children reaching puberty. Think about that – kids already have a difficult enough time just growing up without taking drugs that actively exacerbate their growing pains.

Here’s another thing about kids. They have trouble with the concept of patience. To them, the several years it may take to put on the extra muscle and weight necessary to play varsity ball seems like an eternity.

That’s natural – after all, they’re young. But what excuse do the adults who supervise them have in being seemingly as impatient about the natural growth process? What excuse do the grown-ups, who presumably have learned that life isn’t always fair, have for refusing to concede that their children, their players, their prospects probably aren’t ever going to play college ball – let alone become part of the tiny minority of athletes that has professional careers?

Young athletes will always think the sky’s the limit as far as their abilities are concerned. Parents and coaches are supposed to possess the wisdom to know that the overwhelming majority of youngsters simply don’t have what it takes to become major leaguers and NFL stars. They’re supposed to take that wisdom and help their young charges understand that it’s perfectly OK to enjoy playing the game for the game’s sake, not some pipe dream of glory and riches on the biggest stage.

And that it’s certainly not acceptable to risk one’s health or cheat to get to that stage.

Parents, coaches and big business sports aren’t the only issue here. The truth is, pressure from athletes’ peers is probably just as big a factor in getting youngsters to use performance enhancing drugs. In fact, recent studies into why some people become smokers indicate that parental influence places a distant third behind genetics and peer pressure. (The studies typically look at foster families where the foster parents don’t smoke and the foster child’s natural parents did or vice versa. It turns out that it doesn’t seem to matter what parents do if a child is genetically predisposed to smoking and in a peer environment that encourages the habit.)

Good parents have always known that their children’s peers play a huge role in the adults they become, scientific studies or no. For example, when Marine Lance Cpl. Jeramy Ailes became the first son of Gilroy to die in Iraq last November, some of the most touching tributes to his life came from the parents of his peers, describing their children’s relationships with the fallen soldier.

The parents’ stories contained as many tales of pranks and mischief as of displays of character and kindness. Good parents don’t imagine that their kids’ peers must be perfect all the time, as of course, Ailes was not – nor expected to be. What good parents do is realize that their parenting doesn’t end at the tip of their own child’s nose. They actively help their children select good peers by embracing those like Jeramy Ailes who will help to make their own sons and daughters better men and women. In doing so, they also help the children of other parents in a reciprocal cycle that rewards everybody.

What’s sad about the emerging story of steroid use by young athletes is that participation in sports has always been one of the best ways for parents to ensure their children are surrounded by a positive peer group.

Athletics still serve that purpose for the majority of participants. Now it’s time for us, as the adults, to make sports positive for everybody again.

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