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Chris Murphy, Published August 27 2013

Fargo rehab center cancels fundraiser speech by ex-NFL QB arrested for DUI

FARGO – Because of his recent drunken driving arrest, a former NFL quarterback won’t appear as scheduled at a fundraiser for a Fargo drug and alcohol treatment center today.

Erik Ainge, 27, who played at the University of Tennessee and later for the New York Jets, was slated to be the guest speaker tonight at Ramada Plaza Suites for Jeans and Jerseys, a fundraiser for ShareHouse. He was expected to discuss his recovery from drug and alcohol abuse.

According to ShareHouse executive director and event planner Deb Soliah, Ainge’s speech was canceled and instead three local people will talk about their battles with drug and alcohol abuse. Due to confidentiality issues, Soliah said she could not release the names of the speakers.

“We have three wonderful people that will be speaking,” Soliah said. “We felt that with not knowing how the court system would go or where Erik was in his battle with his disease, we felt it would be better to not have him come to the event.”

According to reports, Ainge was arrested at 1:13 a.m. July 28 in Knoxville, Tenn., after authorities said he was pulled over for swerving in and out of lanes of traffic. The former fifth-round NFL draft pick allegedly had dilated pupils, slurred speech and failed field sobriety tests. He was arrested on charges of driving under the influence, violating the implied consent law and a roadway lane violation. Ainge refused to submit a blood test and later claimed he was texting while driving.

“It’s very, very hard to plan an event when things like this are happening,” Soliah said. “We still have the sports theme, but I just don’t have my football player.”

Lifelong struggle

Ainge struggled with drug and alcohol abuse from the time he was 12 years old. By his senior year at the University of Tennessee, he became addicted to painkillers he was taking for injuries.

As a senior, Ainge threw for 3,522 yards, 31 touchdowns and 10 interceptions and was drafted 162nd overall by the New York Jets. He was sidelined with injuries most of his professional career and suspended twice for violating the league’s substance abuse policy.

In 2010, Ainge entered a drug treatment facility where he was also diagnosed with rapid cycling bipolar disorder. He retired from the NFL in 2011 and is currently the host of a daily sports talk show “The Erik Ainge Show” on Tennessee Sports Radio.

“Some people have setbacks in their battle with this disease,” Soliah said. “We weren’t sure if he was in denial where he is with his journey or what was happening, so we decided to change our plans.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Chris Murphy at (701) 241-5548