SACRAMENTO — As they sorted through their son's belongings after he had shot himself last September, Frank and Brenda Marrero were taken aback by the stacks of muscle magazines -- with ads for pills and powders promising enhanced athletic performance.
"He had them all over," Frank Marrero said of his son Efrain, 19, who had played high school football in Vacaville and at community college, and used supplements and steroids to bulk up.
Marrero recalled that the magazines in his son's room were filled with pictures of "freakish-looking bodies" and eye-catching ads. "We threw them away. It was like they were dirty," he said, adding that they were among the items "we believe ... destroyed our son."
On Wednesday, the Marreros joined Ray and Denise Garibaldi, the parents of another aspiring athlete who committed suicide in 2003 and who have been speaking out against supplements and steroids.
At a Capitol news conference, they became the public face of a campaign to change California law, calling on Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to sign legislation they believe would discourage teens from using performance-enhancing substances.
Muscle magazines have come into focus in the wake of last week's revelation that Schwarzenegger had an $8-million contract with American Media Inc., a leading muscle magazine publisher, at the same time he vetoed legislation that would have banned the sale of some supplements to minors.
Schwarzenegger, who struck the magazine deal days before he was sworn into office in 2003, canceled the contract last week after details became public. On Wednesday, Schwarzenegger's press secretary Margita Thompson called the Garibaldis' and Marreros' stories sad, but she also rebuked them.
"This is a family that is being used for political purposes," Thompson said, "used probably by Democrats, opponents of reform, whomever, who may be putting them up to this."
"We are not being used by anybody," said Marrero, who is a colonel and a KC-10 refueling plane pilot in the Air Force Reserves and has flown missions in Afghanistan and Iraq. "We are doing this because we are concerned parents."
Added Denise Garibaldi: "That's really disgusting. There are citizens in the state of California who are intelligent and who can follow up on things on their own."
The Marreros and the Garibaldis said they are Republicans who voted for Schwarzenegger when he ran for governor in 2003.
But they entered the political fray because of their sons' deaths and are pushing for new legislation, SB 37 by state Sen. Jackie Speier (D-Hillsborough), that would bar high school athletes from using dietary supplements prohibited by amateur and professional athletic associations.
"No parent should have to endure the anguish that haunts us every waking moment," Marrero said, standing next to his wife, the Garibaldis and poster-sized photos of their sons. "Our new purpose in life now is steadfastly dedicated to stopping this tragedy from happening to other families."
Speier's office helped set up Wednesday's news conference after it was contacted by the Garibaldis last week.
Denise Garibaldi said her decision to speak out by testifying before Congress and the Legislature "is not something I ever wanted to do." But when the news broke last week that Schwarzenegger had signed the $8-million contract, Garibaldi said, she got angry.
The Garibaldis urged the governor to return any money he has received from the contract. They also have filed a complaint with the California Fair Political Practices Commission alleging that Schwarzenegger broke conflict-of-interest laws by vetoing Speier's 2004 bill while he was under contract with the publisher of Muscle & Fitness and Flex magazines.
The Garibaldis and Marreros believe their sons killed themselves because of steroid-induced depression. Speier's bill would not affect steroids; they're already illegal without prescriptions. But the couples believe their sons progressed to steroids after ingesting the seemingly benign supplement creatine in their quest to enhance their athletic ability.
Speier's legislation would not affect the sale of creatine, but her measure would require that high school coaches undergo training about dietary supplements so they could better inform student athletes about the hazards.
Speier, who did not attend the parents' news conference, said in an interview that she was considering legislation to commission a state study of the health effects of creatine.
The Garibaldis' son, Rob, started taking creatine at age 15 -- at the urging of a high school coach and baseball scouts, Ray Garibaldi said. Young Garibaldi played on USC's baseball team in 2000 and part of 2001. He hanged himself in 2003, near the family home in Petaluma. He was 23.
Thompson said the governor's involvement in dietary supplements long predates his political career. She added that the governor's office is working with Speier on her latest bill.