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The Tennessee Baseball team had the best season in program history, thanks to the play of a team that seemed to find the right buttons to push with a roster full of talent. But, just because you are playing on the No.1 team in the country, it doesn’t mean everything is going according to plan, especially for one of the Vols star players.
The news that came out on that Friday of Tennessee’s opening game in the Regional before Alabama State game. was a bit shocking. The Vols would be missing starting catcher Evan Russell for unknown reasons, with the athletic department only releasing a statement saying Tony Vitello would address it after the game. Well, this led to social media speculation that didn’t paint Russell in the best light. There were reports of cheating, suspension and more ludicrous explanations that filled the internet until a broadcaster during the Oklahoma State vs. Missouri State game decided to take it a step further, basing his claims off a twitter report from a known Arkansas troll. By the way, it’s not the Razorbacks fan’s fault this happened, it was the announcer who didn’t research his source.
ESPN announcer Troy Eklund, a former Arkansas outfielder, made the claim that Evan Russell had failed a drug test for PED’s, while also making the claim that Evan would be done for the year. It got to a point on Friday night where I was fielding phone calls from multiple people that cover the SEC, trying to figure out what was going on in Knoxville. It should be noted that Troy Eklund is not a regular figure on ESPN, mainly handling secondary broadcasts.
During an appearance on the Tomi Lahren show on Wednesday night, the former Tennessee catcher explained in his words what led to the moment where he decided to miss the Friday game. It all stemmed from pressure and anxiety that he felt was overwhelming him, especially with the focus all season being on him playing a new position.
“You know ironically it came from kind of media, you know, looking for fulfillment with people’s opinions on how I was playing. Just a lot of stress and anxiety I had built up over the season. A lot of people had felt since I had changed positions and learned a completely new position, I was the weakest part of the team. I was kinda the chance for other teams to take down a really good team, a really talented team.
“So, a lot of that pressure was really building up,” Russell added. “You know, I didn’t handle it correctly of missing a game. I’ll have to live with the decision of running from the pressure and bailing on my teammates. I really think that it’s a good thing that we won the game after that, because if I didn’t show I was able to play again there would be a lot of people that would still be convinced that I was suspended for PED’s.”
For the full interview, click on the link below.
#TennesseeVols baseball player @evanrussell_4 did not fail a PED test! He sat down with @TomiLahren to discuss.
Watch more: https://t.co/vLgBw818nl pic.twitter.com/o8AOZDpIiK
— OutKick (@Outkick) June 23, 2022
After the Tennessee Athletic department started making phone calls to ESPN representatives, loudly making their voice be heard about the egregious statement made on air, the network made Eklund read an apology during the Oklahoma State vs. Grand Canyon game the following day.
“I’d like to take this opportunity to apologize to Tennessee’s Evan Russell and the Volunteer program for inaccurate, unsourced information I used Friday night during the Stillwater Regional,” Eklund said during Missouri State vs. Grand Canyon on Saturday. “It was used in error and should not have been referenced. I regret any hurt or harm that it might have caused.”
We all know how the Tennessee season ended, with the Vols losing to Notre Dame and not having the opportunity to finish the year on a high note. But in the case of Evan Russell, he will join a long list of players that will be hard to forget in Knoxville. It’s a good thing that he decided to fully explain what was going on, putting it to bed and moving on with his next goals in life.