Commentary: Senate Needs To Pass Drug Testing

The state Senate is looking at a proposal that would punish Texas public high school athletes who test positive for steroids. It will be a decision and a vote that hopefully will not take long to pass, not just because of the illegality of steroids but because of the lives that can potentially be saved.

Here's the measure that is being looked at by Austin lawmakers: The first time an athlete tests positive for steroids results in a 30-day suspension. A second positive test nets a one-year suspension and the third strike is, well, you're out.

If the state Senate has to play the role of judge, jury and executioner, so be it. The images of the likes of Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, Jose Canseco and Sammy Sosa among others burns too brilliantly in the mind from their "testimonies" about the use of steroids in Major League Baseball. Then there is the ongoing did-he or didn't-he saga of Barry Bonds.

The drugs are not only a part of baseball, but have been called into other sports as well. The reason for using them really translates to a rather simple need, the desire to gain a competitive advantage against the opponent. It is a need, sadly, that now trickles down to the high school level and, who knows, perhaps even before that.

The best documented case in Texas is that of Taylor Hooton, a baseball player at Plano West High School who in July 2003 committed suicide. Taylor's family believed his death was connected to clinical depression by the use of steroids used for performance enhancement combined with Clomid, an estrogen pill designed for women with fertility problems, as well as anti-depressants.

Since his suicide, his father, Don Hooton, has focused his attention on fighting steroid abuse through his organization, the Taylor Hooton Foundation.

Senator Kyle Janek is at the fore of pushing the measure, one that Texas officials are calling the nation's largest for high school students. Currently, about 10 percents of Texas' 1,300 public high schools test for steroids.

Janek believes that only a ban on playing football, basketball or any other sport will discourage athletes from taking performance-enhancing drugs. His bill would test at least 22,000 students, some three percent of the state's 733,000 public school athletes.

Most of the objections in the past have centered around costs to local school districts, but under the pending proposal the state would pay the estimated $4 million per year.

What price to save a life? It's a measure that needs to be passed, and the sooner the better.

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