Anti-steroid crusader Hooton opens up about A-Rod betrayal

Alex Rodriguez once worked with Don Hooton (r.) and his Taylor Hooton Foundation to deliver anti-steroid message to kids.Corey Sipkin/New York Daily News
Alex Rodriguez once worked with Don Hooton (r.) and his Taylor Hooton Foundation to deliver anti-steroid message to kids.

Don Hooton allowed himself a small smile while retelling the story from a not too distant past, when he would “walk into an auditorium” of a high school to pitch his anti-steroid message, and Alex Rodriguez was in tow, creating a massive wake in the slugger’s path.

“The press that follows that, you can’t buy that kind of…” Hooton said, trailing off without finishing the thought. “Unless it turns out (Rodriguez) was not being straight up with the kids.”

For Hooton, sadly, that was exactly the way it turned out. Rodriguez partnered with the Taylor Hooton Foundation – named in honor of Don’s 17-year-old son who committed suicide in 2003 after being a steroid user – in 2009, shortly after he held a mea culpa press conference in Tampa to admit his steroid sins.

Hooton, like a lot of people, believed A-Rod was being honest when he asked the public to judge him from that day forward. Then came Biogenesis, and Rodriguez was the biggest name tied to the south Florida anti-aging clinic and its founder, Anthony Bosch. Baseball suspended Rodriguez 211 games (later reduced to 162) and the disgraced Yankee later admitted to federal agents that he was a hard-core doper between 2010-12, the same years A-Rod was actively involved with Hooton’s singular, anti-steroid mission.

“I’ve spent quite a bit of time with Alex. He’s a nice guy. He did a good job for us. But this last round of revelations, which, if I did my math correctly, he was admitting to doing this stuff at the same time we were out in venues like this talking to kids,” said Hooton, who spoke about the dangers of performance-enhancing drugs to students, trainers and athletic directors at the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center in Little Falls, N.J. Tuesday morning. “Alex sat through, not only personal discussions, but the (foundation’s) programs and it’s like, ‘Were you listening Alex? Did you hear what we were talking about?’”

But Hooton, 64, is not one to hold grudges, and he said that he is genuinely concerned about A-Rod’s health as a serial PED user. Hooton added that he would even welcome the opportunity to sit down with Rodriguez down the road, despite being deeply betrayed by the steroid-tainted third baseman.

“We haven’t talked at all since Major League Baseball suspended him,” said Hooton. “It would be easy to sit down and talk with him, but it would be very difficult for us to go beyond that, and try to recreate what we had before. What we know about these drugs, it’s not if they’re gonna get you, but when.

“I would be genuinely very concerned that at some point – maybe it shows up as he steps back on the field, as a tendon injury, ligament pulls or at the worst, it shows up as cardiovascular problems or some other malady. I’m not a doctor but I would relate that directly back to the performance-enhancing drug use. That’s the price you pay.”

And what of all the kids who were able to meet and listen to Rodriguez talk through a Taylor Hooton Foundation function these past few years? What would Hooton tell any one of them if they came up to Hooton and asked about the Biogenesis fallout and Rodriguez’s admitted doping?

“The first thing that comes to mind is, is the power of these drugs. They work. I still find it hard to believe that a natural-born athlete like Alex ever needed them. Maybe he did. But they work. They’re psychologically addictive,” said Hooton. “With all of the money and fame that goes with it, even a guy in that set of circumstances is pulled back for these things.

“Imagine at that level – you’re an MVP or you’re going for the next level of home run records and your mind is thinking, ‘I know what I’ve been doing secretly.’ Very powerful stuff,” added Hooton. “This is one more testimony for kids – once you get into it, it’s awful tough to get out.”

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