Ainge's Addiction and What It Means for UT
Addicted to pain killers
Addicted to pain killers
Posted Mar 29, 2011

ESPN reported Tuesday on ex-Vols QB Erik Ainge's struggle with addiction. CFN's Russ Mitchell and Barrett Sallee take opposing view on what this means for the University of Tennessee, and how much responsibility the coaches, medical staff and ultimately its athletic department must bear.

Both Barrett and I want to note that addiction of any nature is devastating to the individual and those around them. We congratulate Erik for tackling this and bravely discussing it in a public forum, not only to aid his well being/recovery process, but in the hope that it might deter others from following his path. Ainge's health is unarguably the primary concern, and we wish him continued success in his recovery.

Barrett Sallee: This does not reflect badly on UT

Erik Ainge isn't the first football player to struggle with addiction, and sadly, he won't be the last.

Football is a violent sport that takes its toll on a player's body, and sometimes painkillers are needed to do just that - take away the pain. And sometimes players break the law in order to obtain them.

It's a doctor's responsibility to distribute them responsibly, and it appears the Tennessee training staff did just that. In the ESPN story, Ainge himself states that the training staff stopped giving him pills. In my opinion, that's acting responsibly.

What should concern UT fans is the apparent lack of concern that the Knoxville Police Department had in incidents involving football players. But seriously, are you shocked that a police department in a college town looks the other way? If you are, please take the opportunity to now step back into reality

Unless you live in Athens, Ga. - a town that apparently has a police department that takes pride in arresting football players - members of a university football team are going to get away with things that other members of society can't. Is that the way it should be? Of course not. But that's the way it is.

Back to the University. From my perspective, UT didn't act negligently in any way with respect to Ainge. The Vols have plenty to worry about as it is, but I can't see how this particular story will come back to the Tennessee athletic department. The police department, on the other hand, may be a different story.

Russ Mitchell: This does reflect badly on UT

Revelations that a student-athlete was an addict during his playing days is one thing. It would be difficult for a coaching staff, let alone an institution, to know the behavior of every student athlete at all times. And certainly the player is ultimately responsible for his/her own behavior.

However, besides the human interest, there are two things that stand out about this story: first, Ainge's revelation that a UT team doctor stopped giving him pain killers after he "went through the prescriptions pretty fast", and after "...(the doctor) had been giving them to me for quite a while...".

Of course, this didn't stop Ainge's addiction - it merely meant he had to look elsewhere for his drugs. In the article, Ainge goes on to describe how he began "...getting (pain killers) off the street" to avoid having to miss his senior season to rehab. That he "...wasn't the only player on the team that was doing it..." and "...we were Tennessee football players, so (people) pretty much just gave them to us."

We must take Ainge at his word, which raises an immediate question as to the behavior of the team doctor. If a team doctor suspected there was enough of a problem to stop prescribing the pain killers, did he suggest/require that Ainge attend counseling, or did he merely look the other way?

Just as importantly, does the University of Tennessee as a whole have a policy to recommend counseling to student-athletes it suspects may be struggling with addiction to pain killers?

(CFN has contacted the UT Athletic Department but has not yet received a response to these, and other, questions.)

Second, that's a lot of people involved in those paragraphs above. If we're to believe Ainge, we've got doctors, which means coaches, multiple players, multiple people providing drugs... A secret becomes more difficult to hide with each new person involved.

Given the numbers, it's hard to believe the coaching staff and/or athletic department could be unaware of this situation, unless they were intentionally turning a blind eye. All the more so given the many drug tests Ainge was apparently able to pass while regularly digesting a large amount of narcotics.

While not fitting the classic definition, at some point the words Lack of Institutional Control are going to get tossed around, so I'll go first.

Again, the revelation that student-athletes are drinking alcohol and/or doing drugs is not news. It happens on all campuses, with athletes and students alike.

However, the University of Tennessee has struggled in recent years in this regard, particularly around alcohol-related incidents. Perhaps more so when Philip Fulmer was the program's head coach. In February 2008, this problem was punctuated by the arrest of then junior punter Britton Colquitt on his fifth alcohol-related incident since arriving in Knoxville. (Colquitt was later suspended for the first five games of that season.)

Ainge, of course, was a quarterback during the Fulmer reign.

If we're the adults, and if as we all claim, we are most concerned about the health and well being of our student-athletes, these young men who fight through injury/pain for our joy and entertainment, then we should be doing everything necessary to protect them. From injury. From unnecessary pain. And in terms of addiction, from themselves.

If it turns out that UT was fostering a culture of ignoring addiction to pain killers, and instead turning a blind eye towards the well being of its players, heads should roll.

Follow Russ Mitchell on Twitter @russmitchellsec and Barrett Sallee @barrettsallee.

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