(Updated 12:45 p.m. EDT, Monday, June 18)
A year after New Jersey became the first state to mandate random steroid testing for high school athletes, Texas and Florida are on the verge of launching their own testing programs, and Illinois may not be far behind.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) on Friday (June 15) signed into law the nation’s most ambitious attempt to keep illegal performance-enhancing drugs out of high school sports. Florida’s legislation still awaits the signature of Gov. Charlie Crist (R).
The Illinois High School Association also has plans to move ahead with a testing program as soon as next year, with or without the General Assembly’s help.
Spurred by allegations that some Major League Baseball players, such as home-run-record-chasing Barry Bonds, have illegally taken steroids to build muscle and by stories of teenage athletes suffering adverse effects after using the man-made hormones, states have taken greater interest in testing on the high school level.
“If it can happen in Texas, it can happen anywhere,” said David Hooton, whose son, Taylor, committed suicide in 2003 because of what his parents believe was depression brought on by steroid withdrawal. After urging the Texas Legislature to mandate testing, Hooton on June 1 quit his job with Hewlett-Packard and now plans to travel to other states lobbying for statutes similar to Texas’, which he has dubbed “Taylor’s Law.”
But privacy concerns and the high cost of tests – $100 to $150 each – could stand in the way of more states starting their own programs.
According to the most recent ” Monitoring the Future” report
by the University of Michigan, 2.7 percent of high school seniors have used steroids at some point, and 1.8 percent have in the past year.
At the college level, the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s drug-testing policy dictates a one-year loss of eligibility for athletes who test positive for banned substances, including steroids, and a permanent ban for a second positive test. At the high school level, o nly a s mattering of schools across the country have their own steroid-testing programs.
The statewide programs in New Jersey, Texas and Florida each mandate different penalties. Athletes who test positive would get a 90-day suspension from sports in Florida, a one-year suspension in New Jersey and, in Texas, a 30-day suspension for a first offense, a one-year suspension for a second offense and a permanent ban for a third offense.
Texas’ program, which Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst (R) steered through the Legislature, will be the nation’s most expansive. Between 20,000 and 25,000 students in all sports in the coming school year – or about 3 percent of the state’s nation-high total of 742,341 high school athletes – will have their urine tested for steroids, according to Charles Breithaupt, athletics director for the University Interscholastic League, which will put the program into practice. The Texas Legislature has allotted $3 million a year for testing. Officials in neighboring Louisiana have shown interest in emulating the program.
Florida’s one-year pilot program would be much smaller, calling for testing of 1 percent of the state’s almost 59,000 high school athletes in football, baseball and weightlifting. The Legislature has allotted $100,000 for testing.
Both Texas and Florida plan to test throughout the regular season and post-season. New Jersey tests only during state championship tournaments, sampling 5 percent of the approximately 10,000 student-athletes whose teams get that far.
In its testing program’s first year, New Jersey reported that every test for the fall 2006 sports season came back negative for steroids. The results from winter and spring sports have not yet been released. But the executive committee for the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association, the organization in charge of the testing, has voted unanimously to renew the program for another year.
Bob Baly, assistant director of the association, said the results indicate the testing program has been an effective deterrent.
In Illinois, the No. 4 state in high school sports participation, a sports-medicine committee of the state high school sports association is putting the finishing touches on a testing proposal. Kurt Gibson, the association’s assistant executive director, said the board of directors will solicit input from member schools this fall and could decide by early 2008 whether to go forward with testing for the 2008-2009 school year.
Gibson said Illinois high schools will have more say in setting up a testing program because the athletic association, not the General Assembly, is planning it.
“The piece that we don’t have an answer to here in Illinois is how we are going to fund this testing program,” Gibson said. Options include raising ticket prices to sporting events, seeking federal grants or looking to the state’s General Assembly, he said.
In 2004, legislators in California, the state with the second-highest number of high school athletes, passed a bill to mandate testing, but it was vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R), a former professional bodybuilder who has admitted to past use of steroids.
In 2005, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson (D) pledged $330,000 for steroid testing and created a task force on prevention, but legislators still have not laid out a statewide testing program.
Steroid tests’ -150 price tag may scare states away, especially compared with the -30 price tag for a street-drug test.
Privacy concerns also loom, even though the U.S. Supreme Court in 2002 upheld the legality of drug testing that targets a specific group of students, such as athletes. “You’d really have your eyes closed if you didn’t think there would be legal challenges to this,” said John Stewart, commissioner of the Florida High School Athletic Association, which would be in charge of testing.
Many states, such as New York, favor the less-costly avenue of education rather than testing to deter young athletes from trying steroids.
But Hooton, whose son played baseball in Plano, Texas, and died a month after his 17 th birthday, said he believes education alone isn’t effective enough.
“All of the education in the world is great, but a meaningful testing program – and it’s sad to say – is essential,” said Hooton, whose Taylor Hooton Foundation to raise awareness of steroid abuse recently got a $1 million donation from Major League Baseball. “These kids are no different than the professional athletes they emulate. There’s no roadblock for students. (Testing) will give kids a reason to say no.”