Athletes, coaches react to 'disappointing' steroids news
Young athletes should focus on using their brains, not brawn, said one local youth league official yesterday, the day when former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell released his 409-page report on performance-enhancing use in baseball.
The report included more than 80 names of current and former Major League Baseball players, ranging from potential Hall of Famers Roger Clemens and Miguel Tejada to utility players and journeyman pitchers.
“There's no performance-enhancing drug I know of that makes you a better, smarter athlete,” said Jason Smith, president of Framingham Youth Baseball. “I consider it cheating and it's important for kids to realize the danger.”
William Gaine, deputy director of the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association, said he hadn't had a chance to look at Mitchell's report but he wasn't surprised about the extent of the illegal drug use in the sport.
“Major League Baseball has just flopped on their faces,” he said. “It's disappointing. When you look at a lot of these guys, they're all in the same mold. These guys are getting bigger and better as they're getting older.”
The MIAA has hosted three major steroid conferences in the past year, including one at Fenway Park, another focused on sportsmanship and a third at which athletic directors and coaches discussed steroid use in local athletes.
The conferences have included looks at medical and physical concerns tied to illegal drugs and discussions on sportsmanship and integrity, Gaine said.
Gaine believes parents often ignore or don't know that their children are using steroids or other performance enhancers and are sometimes more interested in their children's success on the field than how they did it.
“If you're in (high school sports) to get to the next level, you're in the wrong place,” said Gaine, saying only a very small fraction of high school athletes make it to the professional ranks. “Most of them aren't going anywhere athletically.
“Rather than talking to their kids about these issues, the parents are silently and tacitly approving of them doing what they need to do to get bigger and faster and become a star,” he said.
Rich Piergustavo, Hopedale athletic director and manager of the Milford Post 59 Legion baseball team, hopes the players named in the Mitchell report will consider making public service announcements talking about steroid use.
“I think (former slugger and accused steroid user Mark) McGwire missed a tremendous opportunity to talk to kids (when accusations first came out),” said Piergustavo.
Hopedale athletes, like many in Massachusetts, attend preseason meetings with athletic officials to discuss drug and alcohol use, among other issues that will jeopardize a player's time on the field.
“Kids are a lot more aware of this stuff than they were five or 10 years ago,” said Piergustavo. “When you're dealing with young athletes, adolescence is a time of experimentation. With that comes some bad decisions.
“In the short term, this is shocking and uncomfortable, but in the long term, it's better for the game,” he said.
Early reports had Boston Red Sox captain Jason Varitek listed among the athletes in the Mitchell report, but that turned out not to be true. Even so, the report should be a warning to young people to be careful when they choose role models, said Piergustavo.
“We have to look at ourselves and see what we value,” he said. “We should be very careful about who we put up on a pedestal.”
Framingham's Legion baseball team hosts a yearly get-together with members of Framingham Little League, said Smith, a day that annually brings smiles to the young players' faces.
“I look to them to be role models,” Smith said of the Legion players.
Craig MacCormack can be reached at 508-626-4429 or firstname.lastname@example.org.