Erik Ainge says he was 'addict' while at UT

Tennessee quarterback Erik Ainge celebrates after a touchdown pass against Kentucky in Lexington, Ky., in the Vols' 52-50 win in 2007. Ainge's bandaged finger is clearly visible on his throwing hand. Ainge said in an ESPN interview published Tuesday, March 29, 2011, that he escalated his drug use after the injury, becoming addicted to the painkillers he took for it, sometimes as many as 25 at a time.

Photo by Amy Smotherman Burgess

Tennessee quarterback Erik Ainge celebrates after a touchdown pass against Kentucky in Lexington, Ky., in the Vols' 52-50 win in 2007. Ainge's bandaged finger is clearly visible on his throwing hand. Ainge said in an ESPN interview published Tuesday, March 29, 2011, that he escalated his drug use after the injury, becoming addicted to the painkillers he took for it, sometimes as many as 25 at a time.

Erik Ainge in 2011.

Photo by Matthew Muise, ESPNNewYork.com

Erik Ainge in 2011.

I just want to say thanks for all the nice comments I have gotten about my article and that tennessee doctors didnt drive me to drugs I did!

-ErikAinge3

Former University of Tennessee quarterback Erik Ainge, now a backup quarterback with the NFL's New York Jets, opened up about his ongoing battle with drug and alcohol addiction in an interview with ESPNNewYork.com, which published Ainge's testimonial Tuesday.

Though he admitted to being a drug user since the age of 12, Ainge wrote that he became hooked on painkillers and was an "addict" during his senior season with the Vols. He ran through the prescriptions so quickly, Ainge wrote, that the team doctor had no other choice but to stop giving them to him.

"I was hooked on them, and I was playing football, and there was no way I was going to cancel my senior year by going to rehab," Ainge wrote. "I started getting them from people, buying them, getting them off the street.

"I wasn't the only player on the team that was doing it, so we knew people. It wasn't, like, super sketchy or anything. We knew people who had them, and we were Tennessee football players, so they pretty much just gave them to us."

A UT athletic department spokesman said the university would not comment on Ainge's testimonial. Shortly after the story was posted on ESPNNewYork.com, Ainge used Twitter to thank supporters and attempt to divert scrutiny away from the effectiveness of UT's drug testing policies.

"I just want to say thanks for all the nice comments I have gotten about my article and that Tennessee doctors didn't drive me to drugs I did!" Ainge said on his Twitter page.

Ainge, a native of Portland, Ore., was a four-year starter with the Vols from 2004-2007 and threw for 8,700 yards and 72 touchdowns.

Ainge was drafted by the Jets in the fifth round of the 2008 NFL draft but has yet to play in a regular-season game. He said his addiction to drugs, which included heroin, only got worse when he moved away from Knoxville. Through most of his rookie year of professional football, Ainge was downing 25 Percocets at a time, he wrote.

"I moved up to New York with a bunch of money, and it was where everything started falling apart," he wrote.

Ainge said he lied to friends and "destroyed relationships" because of his drug habit.

Ainge also wrote that while in the midst of a "two-week bender" last summer he "had some trouble with the law" while he was in Tennessee visiting friends.

"It never got reported because the cops were Tennessee fans, and they saw how bad a shape I was in," Ainge wrote. "It was so bad that I don't even want to talk about it. I was cuffed, but instead of busting me, the cops called somebody in town that knew me."

Ainge wrote that he has been clean since July 17, 2010. During a stretch where he bounced between rehabilitation facilities and a halfway house, Ainge was prescribed medication for bipolar disorder for the first time in his life, he wrote.

Ainge wrote that he goes through therapy sessions on a daily basis and attends Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings five nights a week. He previously was a part of four recovery groups, but can no longer afford them because his insurance from the NFL was cut off because of the league's current lockout.

Ainge, who was slated on the reserve/did not report list this past season, signed a four-year contract for $1.9 million when he was drafted. It's uncertain whether he will remain with the Jets when the lockout ends.

"I'm showing people that love me that I am changing for the better through my actions, and I'm starting to make amends to those people I've wronged," he wrote.

"Kids and athletes need to know it's OK to ask for help and to talk to somebody about what's going on in their lives. I was afraid to talk before, but through my NA program and God, I'm not afraid to ask for help or talk openly anymore."

Andrew Gribble may be reached at 865-342-6327. Follow him at http://twitter.com/Andrew_Gribble and http://blogs.knoxnews.com/gribble.

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Comments » 48

Chelan writes:

"It never got reported because the cops were Tennessee fans, and they saw how bad a shape I was in," Ainge wrote. "It was so bad that I don't even want to talk about it. I was cuffed, but instead of busting me, the cops called somebody in town that knew me."

Ainge should be held responsible for his behavior. Police should be held accountable for their irresponsibility. Covering for Ainge,if true, is appalling. Police corruption is rampant

ladies1st (Inactive) writes:

Kudos to Ainge for coming clean, but what a sad story. What's even sadder is that athletes are put on such high pedestals, and despite being admitted law breakers, they are pampered because of their celebrity. Boo to law enforcement for their prejudice.

master_belcher (Inactive) writes:

Maybe he should throw more thanks to his offensive line for curbing his pain pill addiction.

slee writes:

it didn't surprise me he was an addict the way he play football.

powellguy14 writes:

Well, I guess that does explain that ugly interception at LSU.

77VolFS writes:

I'm amazed at the people who use a story of human tragedy that's found on any campus in any location and turn it into an anti-UT rant. Just who is the one that is most sick here ??

kthoma14 writes:

in response to 77VolFS:

I'm amazed at the people who use a story of human tragedy that's found on any campus in any location and turn it into an anti-UT rant. Just who is the one that is most sick here ??

Agree.

ggrlfrvr writes:

Through my work, I had occasion to meet with Erik a couple of times. I expected an arrogant jock, but instead found someone who was boyishly sweet, yet seemed almost shy and perhaps a little naive. At the time, it reminded me of dealing with my own 18 yr. old son.

Addiction is a deceiving, cunning disease. No one sets out to become an addict. He is to be commended for facing his demons and trying to set things right. Good luck with your recovery Erik!

leprechaun writes:

Another example of a complete bum & loser that the Vol football factory produces on a regular basis!

easygoings writes:

That would explain his playing well one minute and the next like he was off in another world somewhere

As well as his response too unexplainable behavior when a play wasn't followed thru the way
it had been taught that wayward look as if someone else had done something wrong

However I do believe the coaching staff should be held accountable if indeed they were aware this was going on...

What about the strick guidelines for drug testing etc...has this became a past time...
as well as a criminal background check...
no wonder we had so many players getting into trouble in and out of jail their for a while..

A bunch of hoodlooms is what I heard many saying.... sorry to say but I would have to agree.

mastermind writes:

in response to WaltGoVols:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Thats well and fine, I agree that people need to be cut some slack... however, the truth is that if he was any other person on the street (you, me, your son or daughter, mine, etc.) they would have been arrested in a heartbeat with no regard for second chances. That is what makes me angry.

GeorgeW writes:

I think we need to reverse the scores of all games he played in and change everything around because of this.
I AM kidding. That makes as much sense as those wanting to reverse Judge Baumgartner's rulings.
Erik was the coolest player since Heath Shuler's days. I hope he is able to continue the path he is on.

kevin151 writes:

The title should be the worst shirt ever made.

tnsevol writes:

Takes alot of guts to talk openly about your struggles in life... has probably been pretty embarrising for Ainge, as well. But he's facing it head on now.. you have to respect that

adimatteo#261830 writes:

in response to ggrlfrvr:

Through my work, I had occasion to meet with Erik a couple of times. I expected an arrogant jock, but instead found someone who was boyishly sweet, yet seemed almost shy and perhaps a little naive. At the time, it reminded me of dealing with my own 18 yr. old son.

Addiction is a deceiving, cunning disease. No one sets out to become an addict. He is to be commended for facing his demons and trying to set things right. Good luck with your recovery Erik!

"No one sets out to be an addict"..
very true words, when someone you love gets lost in that world of utter destruction (which is what it is), sometimes they are good words to remmeber...

madrigal writes:

Erik Ainge has just showed great courage by coming forward with his story. Addiction can happen to anyone; you just have to have the wrong set of circumstances plus a brain chemistry that makes you more susceptible than other people.Prescription drug abuse is particularly insidious. The enablers are out there everywhere and many of them, especially family, don't even know they're enabling the addict. Any of you who are trashing him had best take a good look at yourselves. I applaud Erik for coming out with his story and wish him all success in the rest of his life.

gillblog writes:

in response to cliffjumper50#205931:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

I agree about the problems of drug abuse in this country and it's presence in college athletics.

However, the FDA, of which I am definitely not a fan, has absolutely nothing to do with this problem. Doctors are not in any way restricted by the FDA on numbers of prescriptions they write, and consequently the volume of drugs produced by pharma companies . That function is completely a matter of good medical practice as promulgated by the various medical associations (AMA, for instance). Pharmaceutical companys are just like all manufacturing companys and strive to sell as much of their products as possible, but there is no FDA involvement in the chain of supply and demand. IF they were, we would be in deep trouble medically. Can you imagine the FDA deciding how much chemotherapy medicince should be manufactured or sold in this country? Those guys took years to decide that a well-known drug for diabetes should be taken off the market even though it's fatal side-effects were widely known.

Homermoosevols writes:

Why isn't talking about the mullet he is sporting? That alone is criminal.

CrankE writes:

Imagine how good he could have been clean.

arkyvol writes:

are we supposed to conclude that fulmer and his staff didn't have a clue about what ainge and some of his teammates were doing?

docwater#225789 writes:

Let he who does not take multiple pills daily, cast the first stone. I wager most posters take blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes, and God know what daily.

VOL-4-LIFE writes:

Dont pay any attention to some of these people on here Eric, Will be praying for you. GO VOLS!

VOL-4-LIFE writes:

in response to leprechaun:

Another example of a complete bum & loser that the Vol football factory produces on a regular basis!

Takes a loser to know a loser there leprechaun!

leprechaun writes:

in response to VOL-4-LIFE:

Takes a loser to know a loser there leprechaun!

Boy, your comeback was very original!!

Just because the truth hurts and Ainge is a chronic zero, don't get mad at me.

TNMs writes:

in response to mastermind:

Thats well and fine, I agree that people need to be cut some slack... however, the truth is that if he was any other person on the street (you, me, your son or daughter, mine, etc.) they would have been arrested in a heartbeat with no regard for second chances. That is what makes me angry.

I totally agree Mastermind. I am all for second chances but the police were wrong and really didn't do him any favor. There are many people that could benefit from the police calling someone to help him out, but perhaps don't have the fame or fortune to receive this benefit. I really wish Erik the very best in the future and pray for his recovery.

AsianView writes:

in response to runningwater58749:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

If the only criteria for not arresting Ainge was that he was a former UT athlete, then the police did both him and the public a disservice.

The police involved in this agency should have to justify their actions in this instance (there might be valid reasons for their actions), and held accountable.

NashvillePreds writes:

in response to TIGERDAN:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Hahahaha. What a joke. You could look at any SEC team, with the exception of maybe Vandy, and find the same problems.
1.) Tragic, but no relation to their relationship to the University of Tennessee (Furthermore, UT has had more successful NFL players than whatever tiger team you cheer for. Also, one prominent Congressman, presently.)

2.) Absolutely no merit to these claims.

3.) Do you think the graduation rate has anything to do with attrition, due to three coaches, in three seasons. (I know linear thinking may escape a peon, such as yourself, but give it a try.)

4.) There is no investigation into baseball. Football will be fine. Bball may have some sanctions.

5.) Old news. Ask georgia about their arrests, or florida, or norte dame, or auburn.

Adding it up: You have no life. You are a waste of my oxygen. You spend your time on a UT message board trying to bring others into the gutter with you. Finally, no one has any f-in idea what school you cheer for, as there are about 45 teams named the tigers.

GO VOLS

Vol_Tilladye writes:

Lest you are walking in the young mans shoes, cast judgement only upon yourselves.

Many people receive breaks for whatever reason. We should be lucky he's alive and honest about his struggles. Not slamming the program for having him as a part of it.

You idiots that slam him and the program probably think your poo doesn't stink either. Take a little closer look and you'll see you're not perfect.

duhman writes:

What I don't hear anyone questioning is UTs' drug testing policy. Even short term usage of pain killers can stay in the system for over 30 days. Either UT doesn't drug test their athletes as they seem to have everyone believe, or they turn a blind eye to anyone that tests positive. I'm sure our infamous Athletic Director can assure us that he's on top of it. HA!

brat52 writes:

Those of you who are slamming LE for not busting his chops need to know more about what you think you know and are talking about! LE DOES cut the common "Joe" slack, but it doesn't make the headlines. They try and help everybody, but when someone starts arguing and fighting with them, the whole scenerio changes, charges, jail, headlines- the works.
Erik is to be commended for coming clean. It is NOT easy to face your demons, especially if you are well known. The fact that he is trying to right his wrongs, and restore relationships is a very positive sign of his sincerity. It is so sad that this started at age 12. Erik is not the only kid that has been led down the drug abuse lane at that early an age. For some, it starts even younger. Those who get children, and I would still call a 12 yr old a child, started on drugs are about the lowest form of human scum. Jail time should not be an option for them. The death penalty should be. The same to those who encourage, aid and abet a child with alcohol, porn.
Erik, keep up the good work! You are headed in the right direction! You are a good person and deserve a drug and alcohol free life. Don't get discouraged! You can do it! Hang in there!
And to you naysayers, and smart alecks. It could very well happen to your child, a family member or friend. Who knows, you could be just as guilty as he, or maybe worse. Cut out the finger pointing, and nasty remarks. Be glad and encourage Erik and others, who are really trying to get their life on track. The other options are sad and leave a trail of regrets. Worse drug addictions, sales and dealing in/with drugs, death.
This openess and coming clean, shows who his REAL friends are. Sadly, far to many here were/are fair weather "friends". Shame on YOU for your shallow and free loading ways. YOU are as sorry as the one who got him started on the drug and alcohol path.

hockeyfan writes:

From the view point of a mother of a drug addict. No, no one sets out to be addicted to pain pills. And it is a horrible and devastating thing that happens not only to the addict but to all of their loved ones. It took a lot of guts for Erik to come forward with his story. We could all set back and point fingers at people at UT, the police who let him go, etc.... Trust me, I have had lots of moments beating myself up. But my son has simply told me that he liked to party and tried Oxycontin and could not walk away from it. Do I blame the FDA 100%, no. But do I blame them for putting a drug out there that is so addictive that it drives so many people to places they would never go or be, YES! Not just my son or young men such as Erik Ainge. We just witnessed a judge in our community that threw away his career over pills. This is a very real problem in our society. And I certainly wish I knew the answer, but bashing this young man for his courage is not it. He is standing up, saying I messed up in a big way and I'm sorry. So unless you have walked in his shoes, or been touched by this horrible epidemic that is ravaging this country I ask that you show a little grace or compassion to him and his family. He is someone's son and he has a family that I am certain has hurt very deeply thru all of this and will continue to do so.

So to Erik and your family, I wish you well young man. I pray for the strength you need each day. And for the healing of your family and your loved ones so you will be able to fight this battle together.

Sincerely, A Mom That Still Has Hope

rockytom writes:

This is really disappointing. I'm seriously thinking that college sports in general needs an overhaul. It's not just Tennessee, it's everywhere. I cringe when I think about the things that are never reported, but could ruin a school's reputation. Here's some things that worry me and what I think should happen.
1. Several years ago, I saw some recruits introduced at a football game. I thought to myself, my gosh they don't look like college material. So I recommend getting rid of some of the ridiculous "majors" that enable these guys to stay in school. And somehow, I don't know how, make sure students attend classes and earn grades honestly.
2. No telling how many alums get involved in the recruiting process (e.g. the Auburn story just released). Keep the alumni totally away from recruits and players. I'm sure this is widespread. I know that as an active alumnus, I have been warned about how my actions could get the school in trouble.

I think we have two coaches (Dooley and Martin) who seem to have good morals and try to do the right thing. Let's give them a chance. I'd much rather have a losing record playing by the rules and win the right way. Saying "everyone does it" doesn't cut it with me.

Finally, any coach, student, faculty member, doctor, or alumnus found guilty of cheating in any way be banned for a lengthy period of time. Let's make getting caught cheating hurt.

hcjournals#206623 writes:

Good story. Eric is one of ours. Remember that. Good for him. Good luck Eric. Get to some games. You will feel the love...

budd#207344 writes:

in response to DukeDeLuca:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

you are truly f****** delusional. How is this Mike Hamilton's fault? This falls right into the lap of your hero, namesake of the cup given to the team with the most arrests in the country. This is the third one of fulmers recruits that we know of that was a drunk/addict. How many others? You really need to get some professional help. This obsession of yours is truly scary. Do you own any guns?

BrandiVol writes:

in response to andforhisnexttune:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

That's ridiculous. Personally, I didn't like Chief Owen for my own reasons, but his retirement timeline was part of his plan when he accepted the job.
Believe me, UT athletes are not coddled by local police. Plenty of officers are not fans of being forced to work on a saturday they normally would be scheduled off and most adopt the philosophy of "If the Vols lose our job will be easier that night". Listen, just because Ainge stated that the officers were fans doesn't mean that it's so. The same people that are calling him a loser, bum, druggie etc are now taking his word as irrefutable and precise.
Listen, many people gets second chances with police officers when they are polite and respectful, not just athletes. Sure there are times when the offense is one that cannot be minimized, I have seen many people that would have gotten off with a warning or even a ticket get arrested because they chose to be uncooperative (putting it nicely).
It's amazing to me how people on chat boards will take any opportunity to turn any story into an anti-police rant.

winVol writes:

WHY POST THIS TRASH I DIDNT LIKE AINGE WHEN HE was playing for UT and why bring the drug addict up now

gluesniffer writes:

in response to TIGERDAN:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

tigerdan + UT website = troll

joevol33 writes:

in response to powellguy14:

Well, I guess that does explain that ugly interception at LSU.

I've been asking people for years if they remember that int and nobody does. You are the first person besides me to talk about it I wish I could find the clip on youtube but can't, it was funny. God Bless the guy for trying to clean it up.

Vol_in_GA writes:

in response to TIGERDAN:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

6) Vacated final four appearance
http://sports.espn.go.com/ncb/news/st...

Oh wait, wrong school.

NCVOL09 writes:

in response to duhman:

What I don't hear anyone questioning is UTs' drug testing policy. Even short term usage of pain killers can stay in the system for over 30 days. Either UT doesn't drug test their athletes as they seem to have everyone believe, or they turn a blind eye to anyone that tests positive. I'm sure our infamous Athletic Director can assure us that he's on top of it. HA!

You have to remember he was prescribed pain pills legally, He took to many which is illegal, but he would "fail" that drug test regardless.

bigdisbig writes:

I never knew Ainge's head was so big. With a mullet like that I imagine the Jets have to use a fiberglass tub to make his helment.

AirForceVol2786 writes:

in response to Chelan:

"It never got reported because the cops were Tennessee fans, and they saw how bad a shape I was in," Ainge wrote. "It was so bad that I don't even want to talk about it. I was cuffed, but instead of busting me, the cops called somebody in town that knew me."

Ainge should be held responsible for his behavior. Police should be held accountable for their irresponsibility. Covering for Ainge,if true, is appalling. Police corruption is rampant

Geez! Its not like they witnessed a murder and just let it go. Calm down big guy!

Colliervol writes:

in response to NashvillePreds:

Hahahaha. What a joke. You could look at any SEC team, with the exception of maybe Vandy, and find the same problems.
1.) Tragic, but no relation to their relationship to the University of Tennessee (Furthermore, UT has had more successful NFL players than whatever tiger team you cheer for. Also, one prominent Congressman, presently.)

2.) Absolutely no merit to these claims.

3.) Do you think the graduation rate has anything to do with attrition, due to three coaches, in three seasons. (I know linear thinking may escape a peon, such as yourself, but give it a try.)

4.) There is no investigation into baseball. Football will be fine. Bball may have some sanctions.

5.) Old news. Ask georgia about their arrests, or florida, or norte dame, or auburn.

Adding it up: You have no life. You are a waste of my oxygen. You spend your time on a UT message board trying to bring others into the gutter with you. Finally, no one has any f-in idea what school you cheer for, as there are about 45 teams named the tigers.

GO VOLS

Good summary. You saved me the trouble of ripping that goof apart.

Colliervol writes:

in response to Tweetdriver63:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Probably Memphis Tigerdan. And it would just be redundant to tell them how insignificant they are in the grand scheme of college sports so I'm not even going to bother.

Colliervol writes:

in response to budd#207344:

you are truly f****** delusional. How is this Mike Hamilton's fault? This falls right into the lap of your hero, namesake of the cup given to the team with the most arrests in the country. This is the third one of fulmers recruits that we know of that was a drunk/addict. How many others? You really need to get some professional help. This obsession of yours is truly scary. Do you own any guns?

Exactly. Just another example of Phil's complacency if he was ignoring stuff like this. No wonder the team underperformed for the last 5 years of his tenure.

UofTNVol writes:

Unreal how the KNS does this. Every story they have to parse a dozen different ways. Give every UT hating hack they have at their disposal a crack at it. Hey KNS, reprinting the same information over and over is not "news". Reposting my comments on the story from yesterday when it was news:

It took a lot of courage for Erik to publicly share his story and own his mistakes and problems. I hope it inspires others coping with addiction to face their own demons, and serves as a cautionary tale for others on the verge of slipping down that path.

For those that troll these boards to get some kind of sick pleasure out of crapping all over everything and everyone, and pretending they're perfect and know everything: I'm not buying it. I respect Erik Ainge a lot more than I respect you. At least he's being honest.

Erik was a damn fine Vol that played his heart out and we should wish him all the best. GBO

My comments on the original story:

givehimsix82 writes:

in response to Vol_Tilladye:

Lest you are walking in the young mans shoes, cast judgement only upon yourselves.

Many people receive breaks for whatever reason. We should be lucky he's alive and honest about his struggles. Not slamming the program for having him as a part of it.

You idiots that slam him and the program probably think your poo doesn't stink either. Take a little closer look and you'll see you're not perfect.

Agreed.... we love football but a life is more important than everything else.

Rockhound17 writes:

Erik. Deal with these "DEMONS" Your an outstanding QB. You have my support! "GO VOL'S

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