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NFL Hall of Fame linebacker Dick Butkus is bringing his legendary tenacity to the fight against steroid abuse in high school sports.
Dick and his son Matt, former defensive tackle for the USC Trojans, are spearheading Play Clean, a program that promotes athletic excellence through serious training, smart nutrition and playing with attitude.
More than one million high school athletes are believed to be using steroids, a number that has tripled in just 10 years with young women now representing one-third of steroid users. Taken in doses of 10-100 times that of normal medical use, athletes use steroids to build muscle mass, but at the consequence of their physical, emotional and sexual health.
“Kids are ruining their future health and their ability to play at the next level when they mess with steroids,” said Butkus. “Our message is simple: Play Clean using your natural ability, along with training hard, eating well and playing with attitude.”
Butkus supports the efforts among professional sports leagues such as the National Football League and Major League Baseball to address the problem among elite athletes. He has endorsed new initiatives by leading states such as Texas and Florida to perform random steroid testing at the high school level.
Beyond these steps, Butkus said athletes, coaches and parents need to have conversations when athletes are young. He believes awareness and personal responsibility can make a real difference.
“The next step is to change the culture among aspiring young athletes in locker rooms, chat rooms and at dinner tables. Our next generation of athletes needs to hear from each other, their parents, coaches and physicians. Steroids are not a short cut. The only thing steroids will cut short is your life.”
The educational campaign Butkus envisions will rely upon word-of-mouth, by equipping athletes, parents, coaches, fans and physicians to actively speak out in favor of playing clean. The first step is to introduce an educational website, www.iplayclean.org, where individuals and teams can learn more about steroids and better alternatives, take a Play Clean pledge, and submit photos of their team.
Eventually, he hopes to leverage the visibility of an award given in his honor to the nation’s top college linebacker to emphasize the importance of playing clean.
Butkus expects to involve corporate sponsors to help run the campaign. The first to commit its support is Nautilus, Inc., the maker of Nautilus, Bowflex, Schwinn Fitness and StairMaster fitness equipment. Butkus relied upon Nautilus equipment in the 1970s to rehabilitate his body after his NFL career and has recently become a spokesperson for the company.
Butkus and his son Matt, who played football for the University of Southern California in the early 1990s, will lead the campaign but will not receive any fees from their involvement. Proceeds will be used to fund educational and outreach programs, and possibly research.
Butkus became aware of the steroid crisis in 2005 when filming a reality television series in Pennsylvania where some athletes claimed to be using steroids. He later became involved with the Taylor Hooton Foundation, a Texas-based non-profit formed after its namesake, a high school baseball star who committed suicide in 2003 as an apparent result of a common emotional reaction to steroids called ‘roid rage.’
Butkus was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame in 1979. Despite never playing on a winning team with the Chicago Bears, Butkus made eight trips to the Pro Bowl, is considered by Associated Press to be one of the five best ever to play football, and was considered one of ESPN’s top 70 athletes of the 20th Century. While playing for the University of Illinois in 1964, he was considered by the American Football Coaches as the best college football player. Knee injuries forced his retirement from the NFL in 1973. Since then the former linebacker has committed much of his time to various charities and philanthropic endeavors. Butkus has also been active as a broadcaster, actor and sports-related businessman through Team Butkus. Dick has been married for 44 years and has three children.
Here is the Play Clean pledge, as it appears at www.iplayclean.org:
— I am an athlete, or a parent or fan who loves organized sports.
— I believe the era of illegal steroid use among athletes must come to
— I believe in healthy lifelong alternatives — training hard, eating
well, and playing with attitude.
— I commit myself to Play Clean.
— I will stand with Dick and Matt Butkus encouraging those around me to
Play Clean and strengthen the future of sports.
Signed and committed,
Person’s name and date