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Don't let teens follow A-Rod's example

By Tom Galvin, Special to CNN
August 2, 2013 -- Updated 1449 GMT (2249 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Tom Galvin: Ryan Braun, Alex Rodriguez still have millions despite baseball scandal
  • Galvin: Many teens think cheating might be the only way to break through in sports
  • Remember Taylor Hooton, he says, a teen who killed himself under influence of steroids
  • Galvin: Tell teens performance-enhancing drugs cause liver trouble, depression and more

Editor's note: Tom Galvin is executive director of Digital Citizens Alliance, Washington-based group that focuses on giving consumers a voice in online matters and helping those who have been victimized. He has been active in Internet security and safety issues for more than a decade.

(CNN) -- Ryan Braun must now sit at home in shame. If press reports are accurate, Alex Rodriguez and about a dozen other Major League Baseball cheaters might do that too. But the homes they sit in are million-dollar mansions. That seems to be the lesson young athletes learn from the latest steroids scandal.

Sure, they look bad. But both Braun and Rodriguez have millions of dollars to fall back on. What's most troubling about this affair is how many of today's young people believe cheating might be the only way to break through in sports.

In a recent Zogby poll, nearly half of males ages 18 through 25 thought that taking performance-enhancing drugs is critical to making it in professional sports or helping one's athletic performance. And well more than half of those polled thought that at least one-third of the major leaguers in the recent All-Star Game had used performance-enhancing drugs, often called PEDs, to get where they are.

Tom Galvin
Tom Galvin

The problem is, for every Braun and A-Rod, a thousand young men will never make the majors -- but are willing to risk their health, even their lives, by taking PEDs. These young athletes need to hear more about Taylor Hooton than Ryan Braun.

Taylor Hooton was a star high school pitcher who turned to steroids to get to the next level. Although the steroids bulked up his body, they wreaked havoc on his emotions until one day he hanged himself. His father, Don Hooton, has committed his life to trying to help other young athletes steer clear of steroids.

Tragic decisions come when you combine motive with opportunity. That's what we have here. Young athletes see juiced-up athletes in a number of sports get fame and glory and multimillion contracts. They want to be like them. They can go online and find dozens of websites that offer to sell anabolic steroids and other PEDs online.

They don't have to find a shadowy figure lurking on a corner in a long overcoat. Teenagers know how to find just what they think they need on YouTube, eBay and other websites that parents haven't even heard of. But these children know nothing about the dangers of even the purest of steroids, not to mention those that are contaminated with dangerous substances. The Taylor Hooton Foundation has found PEDs that contain contaminants such as lead and other heavy metals, liquid mixers such as cooking oil, horse urine and other filthy contents.

What can parents do to keep their kids safe?

Pay attention to sudden fluctuations in weight and muscle growth. If your son or daughter suddenly bulks up, it could be cause for concern. Additionally, pay attention to an extreme shift in personality. Teens are prone to mood shifts, but if suddenly your teen athlete is filled with unexplained rage, speak to him or her about what may be causing the extreme emotions.

CNN Explains: Performance enhancing drugs

It's also important to pay attention to Internet and credit card use. Many teenagers have credit cards, which can be easily used to purchase PEDs online. Recently, the consumer group I head, Digital Citizens Alliance, made four purchases online, and the illegal drugs arrived in just under a month.

Talk to your teenagers regularly about why they shouldn't be using PEDs. To use them is cheating, they are illegal to possess without a prescription, and they can do serious damage to teens' bodies and their minds. It's a sad fact that if they play high school or college sports, these youths probably already know of someone who has taken PEDs. Don't assume it's someone else's problem.

Most important, don't ignore the warning signs, even if it leads to a tough conversation. Make sure young athletes hear the whole story.

Most of the media coverage around the MLB scandal is whether the PED use is "worth" the risk of millions of dollars in lost salary and the shame that comes with getting caught. But the real risk for young athletes is their health. The young athletes who appear to be our fit and finest could be facing decades of health trouble -- including liver abnormalities and tumors, increased risk for heart attacks, depression and more -- from taking PEDs.

Make sure that for every story about A-Rod, they hear about Taylor Hooton. Let them know that fame and money -- and the risk of shame -- are not what really is at stake here. When they use PEDs, they are risking their lives and their health. And that is never worth the risk.

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Tom Galvin.

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