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 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.
The use of the drug in question by 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 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 (Fla.) 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 racecar 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 nothing to substantiate, 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 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 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.
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.