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Steroid Use Is Focus of Sacramento Hearing

Attempt to rally support for action comes after a survey details use of performance-enhancers by high school athletes.

March 26, 2004|Eric Sondheimer | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — Bill Walsh, coach of three Super Bowl champions with the San Francisco 49ers, said Thursday he was "appalled" that parents of high school football players were pushing their sons to be 300-pounders.

At a day-long hearing of the Senate Select Committee on Government Oversight, he was voicing his outrage at the pressures that force teenagers to turn to anabolic steroids and dietary supplements.

"It's just wild," he said of the unregulated supplements available to teenagers and adults.

Trying to mobilize support for legislative action, state Sen. Jackie Speier (D-Hillsborough) brought together parents, coaches, doctors, educators and athletes in an attempt to demonstrate dangers posed by the use of anabolic steroids and dietary supplements.

"We teach kids not to take candy from strangers, but how many know not to take performance-enhancers from their friends and mentors?" Speier said.

Two parents gave testimony about how their sons committed suicide because of what they believe was depression caused by steroid use.

Denise Garibaldi, the mother of former USC outfielder Rob Garibaldi, said her son used steroids when he played at USC. He was a member of the 2000 College World Series team.

She said Rob told her an unidentified USC trainer gave him his first dose of steroids. USC spokesman Tim Tessalone said Thursday that the school denies the allegation.

Garibaldi transferred to Sonoma State in 2002 after going through bouts of steroid rage. His mother said former USC roommates would sleep with bats for protection from his outbursts.

"Rob was dismissed as a behavior problem," she said. "He was never a behavior problem."

Garibaldi, 24, killed himself in October 2002.

Also testifying was Don Hooton, the father of Taylor Hooton, a 17-year-old pitcher from Plano, Texas, who killed himself last summer.

"Knowingly or unknowingly, our kids continue to be pressed to use steroids," Hooton said.

Speier released results of a California survey taken this month by a public affairs firm that found 13% of high school boys and 10% of high school girls among 516 respondents reported they used anabolic steroids or knew someone who took them. More than 52% of the boys surveyed said they knew someone who takes steroids or supplements.

The Food and Drug Administration banned the herbal supplement ephedra on Dec. 30 and on March 11 stopped the distribution of androstenedione, the muscle-building supplement made popular by baseball's Mark McGwire. Major League Baseball, under pressure from Congress, is considering a tougher steroid testing policy.

Speier, author of a California bill last year banning the sale of supplements containing ephedra, places blame on Congress. She said the 1994 Dietary Supplement Heath and Education Act treats dietary supplements as a sub-category of food, allowing them to be sold without having to prove they are safe to the FDA.

"As a result, we as consumers have been duped into thinking that all dietary supplements are safe and effective and virtually none have been tested," she said. "Unfortunately, we don't act until big stars speak out, but we will act in this situation."

Absent from Thursday's hearing was Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has acknowledged using steroids during his days as a bodybuilder.

Asked if the governor had been invited, Speier said: "I've never seen a hearing in my 15 years in the legislature where the governor's been invited to testify. He's had plenty to say about it. He does not have a high opinion of the FDA or government's role in dietary supplements."

Ashley Snee, a spokeswoman for the governor, added: "The governor thinks it's important that parents and coaches have an open line of communication with today's youth and that children fully understand the consequences of their actions."

Suggestions were made at the nearly 5 1/2-hour hearing, such as drug testing of high school athletes and more training for coaches, but coming up with money to pay for the tests and training remains an obstacle.

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