The Frontstretch: Hornaday's Testosterone Use: The Story That Should Have Never Been Told by Tommy Thompson -- Wednesday September 17, 2008

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Hornaday's Testosterone Use: The Story That Should Have Never Been Told

Thompson in Turn 5 · Tommy Thompson · Wednesday September 17, 2008


As the media fanfare surrounding the first race of the 10-event Chase for the Sprint Cup heated up last week, news that defending Craftsman Truck Series champion Ron Hornaday, Jr. had used steroids stole the headlines. Not just motorsports headlines, mind you…sports headlines, period. ESPN The Magazine broke the story that three-time CTS champion Hornaday had admitted to the use of testosterone from December of 2004 to January of 2006 — without telling NASCAR.

It was a story that, when fully considered, should never have been told.

Turns out the 50-year-old Hornaday did, in fact, order and use the substance in an ill-advised attempt to medicate himself for symptoms from a condition that was later correctly diagnosed as a hyperactive thyroid. When presented with records from the medical clinic that had prescribed the course of treatment, Hornaday admitted to having used the testosterone — although he explained that he was not aware that it was a steroid. Further, he produced for ESPN interviewer Shaun Assael a doctor’s prescription for the drug.

Subsequently, after the Hornaday drug use story was picked up by news media outlets throughout the country, NASCAR officials met with the veteran last Friday to investigate the facts of the case. Well, it didn’t take long for them to conclude that this was a “personal health issue,” and that no further action needed to be taken on the sanctioning body’s part.

“Our substance abuse experts have told us the prescription Ron Hornaday used did not enhance his performance or impair his judgment. It is our understanding Ron had a very serious health issue, which is continuing to be addressed,” said Jim Hunter, NASCAR’s Vice President of Corporate Communications.

Two thumbs up to NASCAR for not kowtowing to the news media and their insatiable thirst for scandalous issues to help sell their papers and promote their websites. With a prompt response in support of Ron Hornaday, further damage to the veteran driver’s reputation was probably averted — or at least minimized. But some damage was already done… and Hornaday’s name was unnecessarily and unjustly tainted by the press.

Ron Hornaday has found himself spinning off the track and into the spotlight this past week thanks to what can perhaps best be described as questionable journalism.

The use of the drug in question by Ron Hornaday was not news; it was a private and personal medical issue that had no business ever being made public. During the period in which Hornaday used the testosterone, there was also no NASCAR rule which prevented him from doing so. He had no obligation or reason to divulge his treatments to his employer, Kevin Harvick, Inc., or NASCAR.

Fortunately, it appears that Ron Hornaday has had his health concerns properly diagnosed, and is now under the proper medical care for his condition. The Truck Series veteran, who had lost approximately 30 pounds at one point, finally received the proper medical assistance after intervention from his employer, Kevin and DeLana Harvick. Hornaday thanked the Harvicks during his champion’s speech at the CTS Awards Banquet for not only providing him with the equipment to win the 2007 CTS Championship, but helping him with his life.

To an extent, ESPN should not be faulted for investigating Hornaday’s use of the controlled substance. The Palm Beach (FL) Rejuvenation Center, the clinic that supplied the drugs to Hornaday, has been linked with unethical and even criminal activities in supplying steroids to professional athletes. Clearly, the Center had been engaged in the unscrupulous dispensing of drugs that were used by athletes to gain a competitive advantage in their particular stick and ball sports.

The writer, Shaun Assael, has also written extensively on the use of performance enhancing drugs by professional athletes. Upon obtaining documents indicating that a professional race car driver had obtained a drug that could conceivably be used for other than legitimate medical reasons, he understandably believed that he was justified to further investigate the matter. After all, that is what investigative reporters do.

Where the reporter and ESPN went wrong is ever making the story public. There was no justification, once Hornaday was questioned, to pursue the matter further. Hornaday provided the investigator with all the evidence needed as to his medical problems and his reason for self-medicating with the drug. There was no attempt, despite the reporter’s claim, that Hornaday was inconsistent in his timeline of use, or that he had ever covered up the purchase or use of testosterone.

Additionally, the fact the former Cup driver had been battling ongoing health problems was certainly easy enough to confirm. The Harvicks were well aware that their driver had health issues, and eventually intervened out of concern for their employee — and friend.

Questions were asked of Hornaday during this investigation … and he answered them. In doing so, he divulged sensitive and private medical information, along with corroborating evidence. With the facts clearly strewn out in front of them, at that point the issue should have become a non-story for ESPN. It was clear that the winner of more CTS races than any other driver in the series’ history had done nothing illegal, or involved himself in anything more than attempting to deal with a serious health issue that had at least on two occasions been misdiagnosed.

Yet ESPN still saw fit to publish the story, making the information public knowledge knowing that it would cause unwarranted angst to Hornaday, forcing him to defend himself in the firestorm of national opinion. It unnecessarily and unfairly put him in a position of having no choice but to divulge sensitive medical information to the general public in order to save his reputation.

But Ron Hornaday was not really the issue for the reporter that chose to drag his name through the mud. The reigning CTS champion was only an expendable object in the writer’s true agenda… to slam NASCAR for not having a random steroid testing policy in place, a plan that the writer believes needs to be implemented.

But logic that goes along the lines of, “If NASCAR had a drug testing policy in place, they would have known that Ron Hornaday was using steroids” is convoluted. This is flawed reasoning at best; for had NASCAR had a drug testing policy in place at the time that Hornaday was treating himself with testosterone, they would have only been privy to his medical information — which would not have altered his legitimate use of the drug.

So, ESPN’s decision to run with the story is reprehensible. Again, Hornaday did nothing wrong, no matter how the story was twisted to appear otherwise. There are no legal issues or rules violations. The sports news outlet knew they had nothing, but chose to use the man as nothing more than a pawn, tarnishing his name regardless of the facts.

Again, give NASCAR credit for standing by the well-liked and respected driver. They handled the issue correctly, being both expedient and decisive while recognizing the issue for what it really was. And kudos to Kevin and DeLana, who have supported their driver throughout the ordeal, while knowing that Hornaday was being mistreated. “Ron was sick. My wife DeLana and I could see it. And we got him help,” Harvick said. “But before that, Ron sought other avenues of treatment. Did he use the [testosterone] cream? Yes. Did he use it to enhance his performance? No. I feel like he did everything right to take care of himself.”

Whether Hornaday did right by doing business with the questionable medical center that prescribed his course of treatment may be debatable. However, his motivations for using the medication have been investigated and found to be legitimate.

Hopefully, the story has ended and will be quickly forgotten. What’s unfortunate is there will be no lesson learned by certain writers and news media outlets who will just move on to the next sensationalized story — with hidden objectives.

And…that’s my view from Turn 5.

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09/17/2008 08:00 AM

I am not a fan of Hornaday, But I feel he should have the right to sue ESPN for attempting to ruin his career. We all know that can’t happen, but I think “news” companies have long over-stepped their bounds of ethics. There should be a point at which a person has recourse. Poor guy has suffered a huge blow to his privacy and his reputation.

09/17/2008 08:57 AM

If ESPN published medical records, a diagnosis, treatment regimens etc. without written consent from Hornaday…I would think that ESPN has violated the federal HIPPA LAW (the one that everyone has to sign for even at a dentist appointment).

09/17/2008 09:20 AM

Amen, Brother Thomas! Preach on!

And you answered that lingering “why” question for me. I just couldn’t understand why ESPN would run with this story when Hornaday laid it all out there for them. I think you’re right. It had to be for the purpose of taking a stab at Nascar’s drug policy. However, due to their method, they failed miserably. I now find myself questioning most anything reported by them, assuming exaggeration. I’ll now have to add hidden agenda to the list. Really not something you want to see from such a long-term television “partner.” Seems to me they’re going to use their favorable access in a way that’s potentially detrimental to the sport and its participants. I find myself wishing they were stuck in the parking lot again.

09/17/2008 09:25 AM

The news media has no ethics in the new Millennium. They say they are self-policing —doesn’t happen.

We can go back only a few years and lead up until today to see how unchecked and unbalanaced things get in any arena without the proper oversight.

Anyone hear of Enron and Tyco and Global Crossing and World Comm? These were huge billion dollar companies that fell and fell hard when their leaders got way way out on a limb. At least Tyco is still in business and World Comm morphed into something else. But how many people paid for the lack of oversight with their jobs? Same thing wit the dot com crisis. You didn’t even have to have a balance sheet in the dot comm era. Just a goofy idea and a domain name and you had angle investors all over you looking to get rich. Well that crashed. Again no real oversight.

What about the current mortgage crisis? Same thing. No docs (aka “no documentation”)? Are you kidding? What idiot wrote the rules that in making the largest purchase you will make in your life you don’t have to show an income or job or even a bank account? When I bought my house I had to show — and expalin — skid marks in my pannies to get approved. Where on Earth did we get so rich in this country that we can loan hundreds of thousands of dollars to people with no money? Again no oversight. And many many many people are paying for that one right now.

What about lack of oversight a few years ago when California utility rates went sky high? And wow what about now and the price of crude oil? That shot up outrageously because of greed — not greed from Big Oil — but greed from Wall Street and global speculators. Again no oversight. And look where it’s got us?

My point? The news media as a whole is a willing participant in this 24/7 mess. Get the story out first is the motto instead of getting it right. In the old days facts were checked and checked and things were quashed if they weren’t relaible or relevant. Hornaday’s thing isn’t relevant — not in the least. If someone was trying to show that NASCAR’s drug program was weak — or non-existant, then if the Fike story didn’t make a point, nothing will. What did it gain to put Hornaday in the cross hairs? Nothing! Not one dam thing! If anything the whole affair made people side with Hornaday…Ever noticed how local news anywhere and everywhere opens their broadcast with controversy? Rapes fires and murders are the lead of the day — any day. News directors can’t get off that and therefore every local news station in this country leads off with mayhem. That’s what news editors do. Any wonder why ESPN did what they did? I am not giving them a free pass, indeed they are disgusting. ESPN seems intent on beating NASCAR in the ground…must be a chip on their shoulders when they lost the broadcast rights back in 2000 because they sure don’t seem to want to just show the Show. For ESPN it’s all about stinking up the Show.

You bet the article could have been handled another way. And maybe NASCAR needs to call ESPN into the Big Yellow Truck and lay their Mighty Hand upon the TV gurus like they try to hold down and manipulate the drivers. Think drivers complianing about the COT is bad do ya NASCAR, what about ESPN? They are running your show into the ground. It would be like Goodyear making bad tires on purpose.

09/17/2008 09:44 AM

You don’t have to look too hard to find many instances of the press reporting anything that will bring in readers , viewers , or ad revenue . Reporters have notoriously little self control when it comes to ethical reporting , and editors only marginaly more .I don’t know of anyone at ESPN that has enough talent or ambition to actually dig up a story . The Hornaday story just fell into their laps , much as the Tim Richmond drug story did . Of course that smear was released by NASCAR as payback to Richmond for standing up to Bill France . I don’t think there is any more to the Hornaday story than a reporter weighing whether it was ethical to report it without doing due diligence , and deciding to take the easy way instead .

09/17/2008 09:50 AM

And by the way , i as a fan couldn’t care less if Hornaday took steroids . IT IS NONE OF MY BUSINESS . If the fans realize that these types of stories are not relevant and aren’t wanted , then the press will get the hint and stop reporting non issues like this one .

09/17/2008 09:50 AM

I don’t feel it’s a case of the story should never have been told but rather it should have been told correctly.

As journalists it is their responsibility to get all of the facts but in this day and age of impatience that has fallen by the wayside.

09/17/2008 11:00 AM

There is an excellent commentary on by a Nobel Peace Prize winner in economics today. It just underscores what I have said here and above. No oversight; leave institutions to self regulate and it doesn’t happen. And while I am not a big regulatory guy nothing could illustrate the need more for ethics in media and regulation than what we see on the airways and in print today. It’s out of control. Even the basics are being ignored. I saw today a Reuters article on an important subject that left out a key word in a key sentence. That’s just plain ole spell check making people lazy. If you were doing your job there is no way that article would have been posted — especially at a respected organization like Reuters — if someone was just looking at the printed word. Again my point is that it can be seen time and time again how things get out of whack. And this Hornady thing is just the tip of the iceberg. Any self-respecting “journalist” would never have put that out there. What does it accomplish? Is it newsworthy? When does privacy override the thirst for news?

But all my yappin ain’t gonna change one thing and therein lies the problem.

See the article at

09/17/2008 11:44 AM

I lost all respect for ESPN when they hired Ray Evernham to work for them. Here’s a married man, sleeping with an employee, and I guess they think that kind of thing is okay…

Now they’ve put Hornaday thru the mill, and he’s done nothing wrong. Kuddos to Kevin and DeLana. They’re very special people!

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