Backup New York Jets quarterback and former Tennessee Volunteer Erik Ainge has opened up to ESPN New York about his battle with prescription pain killers and other hard drugs. According to the quarterback — whose senior year in Knoxville came in 2007 — he was using while at UT.
Some excerpts from Ainge’s first-person account:
I’m a drug addict. I was in denial for a long time, but that’s who I am. My addiction is with the hardest of hard drugs — heroin, cocaine and alcohol. During my days of using, I was a really bad drug addict. I would’ve made Charlie Sheen look like Miss Daisy.
It got worse in high school and even worse in college. By the time I was a senior in college, I was an addict. I played my whole senior season with a broken finger on my throwing hand. It was really badly broken. Just taking the snap, throwing the ball, handing if off, getting tackled — everything that goes along with playing quarterback — it was very painful.
Throughout that process, I became hooked on pain killers. I got them from the team doctor. I went through the prescriptions pretty fast. After he had been giving them to me for quite a while, he said he couldn’t give them to me anymore.
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. 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.
ESPN contacted UT but a spokesperson denied comment.
Ainge says that he is coming forward to help others who are battling addiction. We at MrSEC.com wish him well in his recovery. But the fallout from this bombshell could get interesting.
First, did then head coach Phillip Fulmer know of his star quarterback’s addiction? Did members of the Tennessee staff — like then-offensive coordinator and current Duke head coach David Cutcliffe — turn blind eyes to Ainge’s issues?
Fulmer is considered to be a candidate for the UT athletic director position should current AD Mike Hamilton be dismissed at some point. If details of a drug scandal under his watch pop up, that could hurt his chances for landing that spot, if he wants it.
Finally, from Lane Kiffin to Bruce Pearl to the NCAA to pain killers… how many more bad stories can Tennessee fans stomach at this point?
For the record, Ainge had a solid senior season at Tennessee throwing for 3,522 yards, 31 touchdowns (versus just 10 interceptions) and he was sacked just 3 times.