In 2003, Don Hooton's life took a shocking, undesired turn. His son, Taylor, a high school athlete, took his own life at 17 years old. The Hooton family linked Taylor's suicide to the use of anabolic steroids.
Overnight, Hooton went from a successful Texas businessman to one of the leading American parental voices against anabolic steroid, HGH and other PED use by American youths.
Hooton created the Taylor Hooton Foundation in McKinney, Texas, in 2004. In 2005, he was in Washington D.C. for the PED hearings.
By 2009, Hooton's foundation was a loud and respected voice in the battle against performance enhancing drugs. Shortly after Alex Rodriguez admitted to steroid use that winter, a relationship formed between Hooton and A-Rod. In a televised interview with ESPN's Peter Gammons, Rodriguez claimed he could use his experience to send a message to kids and Hooton jumped on it.
"[The Yankees] were enthusiastically supportive of our offer to work with Alex and put us in contact with him," Hooton remembered. "We talked to him on the phone and stood next to him on his big press conference in Tampa [when he detailed his earlier steroid use]."
Despite Rodriguez admitting to steroid use in the past, Hooton was confident he had a voice that could transform his foundation and steroid use among youths. He made Rodriguez a face of his organization.
So when the Yankees third baseman was suspended for his alleged involvement in the now-shuttered Biogenesis Clinic in Florida on Monday, few were more heartbroken than the man who trusted Rodriguez to help carry on his son's legacy.
(Rodriguez, for his part, is appealing the suspension.)
"We've had a very good working relationship with him since we joined up in 2009," Hooton said. "We've gone as partners to schools and Boys & Girls Clubs up and down the East Coast in Florida, in New York. It's just very disappointing to find out that Major League Baseball has concluded he used performance-enhancing drugs in a time when we've been trying to deliver a message to kids that this is just not acceptable behavior."
When the initial report of the Biogenesis scandal broke, the news was hard for Hooton to swallow.
"My first reaction was hoping against hope it was just a rumor and that it wasn't true," he said. "When I allowed myself the fact it was true, I just had sadness and disappointment."
Hooton felt duped. Since Taylor's death, Hooton has devoted nearly a decade to preventing other parents from experiencing his pain. For four years, he embraced Rodriguez, as the hundred-million dollar star stood by his plight.
Today, no one can use the term "A-Fraud" as accurately as Don Hooton.
"With the kind of relationship, it's disappointing," Hooton said. "He's helped us and I've stood next to him as he's delivered some very, very powerful messages to kids. These are drugs, they work, and Alex, somewhere along the way, just as many other athletes have done, made a wrong choice, to use performance-enhancing drugs and for the life of me, I don't understand why. This is one of the finest players to ever put on a Major League Baseball uniform, and I can't just imagine why he felt it necessary to go back to these drugs."
Hooton says the 13 suspensions announced by MLB make it a sad day for baseball. But he believes the past few weeks show a progression since his trip to the nation's capital in 2005.
"We find ourselves eight years later and we find ourselves very proud to see Major League Baseball has stepped up to the problem," he says. "Look what happened today. Commissioner [Bud] Selig has really taken the lead in efforts to drive this stuff out of the game. On the education side, they are now the single largest investor in youth education on performance-enhancing drugs."
Hooton prides himself on the work his foundation has done and the influence it has had on people. He commends the NFL, like the MLB, on improving its stance against PED use in the last decade.
In perhaps a painful twist of irony for Hootpn, the fourth annual "Give a Hoot Benefit" to benefit the crusade against steroid abuse by the Taylor Hooton Foundation is scheduled for this Sunday. The benefit will take place at Yankee Stadium before and during the game.
Rodriguez took part in the first three events. During planning for the fourth event, Hooton contacted him three to four months ago. At the time, Rodriguez was in rehab and could not commit to being back on the Yankees roster for the event.
This weekend, it is doubtful he will be present at the benefit.
"I guess it looks like Alex is going to be playing, but I doubt very seriously he will come by the event," Hooton said.
Current Yankees pitcher Andy Pettitte, Senior Vice President and General Manger Brian Cashman and President Randy Levine will be among the representatives of the Yankees organization. Levine is also on the Board of Directors for the foundation.
Pettitte, like Rodriguez once upon a time, is an admitted PED user. In 2008, Pettitte conceded to reports that he used HGH on multiple occasions in 2002 to repair an elbow injury.
Now according to Hooton, Pettitte is the role model, not Rodriguez.
"He did it the right way," Hooton said. "That's the way our role models ought to act. Admit your mistake, step up to the plate, accept your punishment and begin to set a good example for our kids. There are not words that are strong enough to tell how positively I feel and how several of the guys in our organization feel about Andy Pettitte. He is a man's man, a Christian and just a wonderful father and human being."
As for the future of the Taylor Hooton Foundation, Hooton is confident the organization and the rest of the anti-steroid camp will continue making strides. But for four years, the Taylor Hooton Foundation stood by a man who is now seen as one of the dirtiest PED users ever to play the game.
"To an extent, if we are going to be credible on this issue, we really don't have a choice but to take the steps that we took today," Hooton said. "That will hopefully send the signal to our supporters and folks with us that we're serious about this problem and ultimately we're going to do the right thing no matter how tough the choices are."
Despite the disappointment, Hooten sees a light at the end of the tunnel: More and more major leaguers are advocating for more detailed PED testing and stricter punishments. Hooton wants these players to partner with his foundation.
"I'm hoping that some of those guys who are fed up and beginning to talk in a positive way about this problem," he said. "They're fed up.
"Maybe we can get a couple of the real stars to step forward and help us."
-- Follow Jeffrey Eisenband on Twitter @JeffEisenband.