Tennessee catcher Evan Russell catches a pitch during the NCAA Baseball Tournament Knoxville Regional between the Tennessee Volunteers and Campbell Fighting Camels held at Lindsey Nelson Stadium on Saturday, June 4, 2022. Utvcampbell0604 1880

Before Friday’s college baseball regional game between Tennessee and Alabama State, the Vols got the unfortunate news that starting catcher Evan Russell would be unable to play. The school didn’t initially release the reason for his absence and, as happens, speculation began to run wild. That speculation made it all the way to the ESPN broadcasting booth.

During ESPN’s broadcast of the regional game between Oklahoma State and Missouri State, analyst Troy Eklund claimed that Russell was suspended for the remainder of the season after using performance-enhancing drugs. Furthermore, he stated that the NCAA planned to now test the entire baseball team as a result.

That’s some pretty strong news to break live over the air like that, so you would just assume it was reliable and buttoned-up. However, on Saturday morning, Tennessee released a statement refuting that claim.

“Evan Russell’s absence last night had nothing to do with any violation of team, NCAA, or SEC rules,” the statement reads. “We have been in contact with ESPN and they are aware of the situation regarding last night’s comments made on their broadcast. ESPN is handling the situation and we are expecting a public apology from them later today.”

Russell’s father, Jason Russell, also took to Twitter to refute the claim of drug use. He said that his son’s absence was related to “a health issue.”

On Saturday, Russell also added that his son had been cleared to play after dealing with “anxiety, stress, and pressure.”

Russell played briefly in Tennessee’s 12-7 win over Campbell on Saturday, hitting a single in the ninth inning. The No. 1-ranked Vols are surely excited to have him back given that he’s hitting .299 with 13 home runs in 52 games this season.

On Saturday, Eklund formally apologized on the air to Russell and Tennessee for saying “inaccurate, unsourced information” about them on Friday.

“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 Saturday during the Missouri State-Grand Canyon game. “It was used in error and should not have been referenced. I regret any hurt or harm that it might have caused.”

Eklund also took to Twitter to extend a further apology to Russell, his family, Tennessee, and Vols coach Tony Vitello.


“While I made a statement on air today, I again want to extend my most sincere apologies to Evan Russell and his family, Coach (Tony) Vitello, and the entire Vols organization and fanbase for comments I made in error yesterday,” Eklund wrote. “I know coach Vitello and believe he knows where my heart is coming from and that I didn’t mean to cause any harm. I’m truly sorry and will work to do better in the future.”

After the apology was aired, Russell’s father responded by saying “your apology is appreciated and accepted,” giving us the rare positive ending to these kinds of ordeals.

For his part, Tennessee AD Danny White added his own messaging about Russell, saying that “in the future, I hope that the media will prioritize the health of our student-athletes over founded rumors.”

[Audacy, NY Post]

About Sean Keeley

Along with writing for Awful Announcing and The Comeback, Sean is the Editorial Strategy Director for Comeback Media. Previously, he created the Syracuse blog Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician and wrote 'How To Grow An Orange: The Right Way to Brainwash Your Child Into Rooting for Syracuse.' He has also written non-Syracuse-related things for SB Nation, Curbed, and other outlets. He currently lives in Seattle where he is complaining about bagels. Send tips/comments/complaints to sean@thecomeback.com.