In the most recent example of the severity of opioid addiction in sports, Eric Kay, a public relations employee and Director of Communications for the Los Angeles Angels, recently came forward and admitted that he was the primary supplier of oxycodone for Tyler Skaggs, the late pitcher for the Angels who passed in July as a result of a fatal overdose. Kay, 45, who has been working for the team for over two decades, also told federal investigators from the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) that he had been abusing oxycodone with Skaggs for years. Although it has been denied in a statement by the Angels this past Saturday, Kay has also alleged that at least two of the LA Angels’ officials had knowledge of Skaggs’ drug abuse “long before his death.”
Investigators discovered Kay’s involvement with Skaggs after examining a text thread between the two of them, which served as evidence for the years-long arrangement and history of abuse between the both of them. He has stated that he believes that being forthcoming with investigators “was the right thing to do… if it comes with public shame and derision, I accept that.” Kay is currently on paid leave and attending a substance abuse treatment program.
How Kay Fueled Skaggs’ Addiction
Although it is unclear how their relationship evolved from player and employee to demander and supplier, Kay and Skaggs had been abusing oxycontin consistently for multiple years. As evidenced by numerous Venmo payments over the course of two years, Skaggs would pay Kay anywhere between $150 and $600 for Kay to obtain opioids for him. The arrangement largely benefitted Kay, who was able to buy drugs for both Skaggs and himself with the money sent to him. Kay maintains that Tim Mead, former vice president of communications for the Angels, knew that Skaggs was receiving opioids from Kay.
Skaggs’ Overdose in Dallas
On July 1, Tyler Skaggs died in Southlake, Texas, after overdosing and choking on his own vomit in his hotel room. According to Kay, he witnessed Skaggs snort three lines of crushed drugs only hours before he passed, although he says that he couldn’t identify the third substance snorted. He also alleges that he last gave Skaggs three pills two days before the team traveled from California to Texas, and believes that the pills Skaggs snorted could not have been the ones he supplied him with. According to the autopsy released on August 30th by the Tarrant County Medical Examiner’s Office, evidence shows that he died from overdosing on a mixture of oxycodone, fentanyl, and alcohol. He was only 27 years old, and is the latest to have his life extinguished by the culture of addiction in sports.
As a result of the presence of fentanyl found in Skaggs’ system, the DEA has taken interest in his passing and are in the process of trying to uncover how he happened to obtain it, if not through Kay’s supply. Fentanyl is currently one of the DEA’s biggest concerns, as the synthetic opioid has proven to worsen the opioid epidemic and cause a spike in the number of overdoses due to its potency. In the past it has been linked to overdoses and deaths of numerous high-profile musicians and celebrities, chief among them Prince, Tom Petty, and Mac Miller.
Changing Opioid Addiction in Sports
Although he claims that he did not supply any other players with opiates or painkillers, Kay reportedly gave the names of at least five other players who played for the Angels that abused or struggled with opioid addiction. Not unlike players in the NFL, it is an unspoken truth that many of those in the MLB also struggle with the open secret of addiction in sports. Whether it’s to escape from public pressure, to manage chronic pain that comes with pushing the body to its limits, or an uncontrollable desire to use just for the sake of numbing, the reality is that the opioid epidemic doesn’t discriminate and has affected the rise of opioid addiction in baseball and in other sports as well.
In spite of the fact that no action has been taken yet, Skaggs’ unfortunate passing could very likely lead to litigation should his family decide to take action against the Angels and Major League Baseball as a whole. It can be argued that Skaggs’ death resulted at least in part from negligence and potential omissions on the Angels’ part and by Angels’ employees, Kay among them. Although Kay’s version of events places the immediate blame for Skaggs’ overdose on another supplier, it does not change the fact that as an employee he encouraged Skaggs’ habit and endangered the player– which begs the question, how many other Angels employees knew about and encouraged the habit? Although the legal system has yet to force any of the necessary changes on the industry, Skaggs’ death might be the catalyst that causes significant and necessary changes regarding opioid addiction in sports.