Some of them are self-inflicted. Tennessee baseball has a brash young head coach, Tony Vitello, who has already been suspended this year. This mentality carries over to the team. The Vols thumbed their noses at criticism, going back to Vitello’s Mike Honcho reference to the Vanderbilt Commodores’ cheating allegations.
However, as they swept their NCAA Regional last weekend, beating the Alabama State Hornets, Campbell Fighting Camels and Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, it never became more clear that they are attacking the world. It seems that is exactly what they want.
It all started on Friday. Evan Russell missed Tennessee’s first baseball game due to a medical condition. However, ESPN broadcaster Troy Ekeler said while calling the Missouri State Bears and Oklahoma State Cowboys that Russell was suspended for using PED.
So ESPN announcers decided to say that Tennessee’s Evan Russell was suspended for PED based on “reports and speculation” and that the NCAA would now be testing the entire team.
Where is that report that says that about Russell? pic.twitter.com/HnsG0GfciZ
— Trey Wallace (@TreyWallace_) June 4, 2022
Russell’s father, Jack Russell, said on Twitter that his son missed the game due to a health issue. Sporting director Danny White then had to issue a statement about it. That clearly wasn’t true with Russell returning to the team on Saturday, and Ekeler issued an apology calling the game Missouri State and Grand Canyon Antelopes.
Evan will do a physical/evaluation with the doctor this morning. It didn’t fail any type of test or anything. He had a health problem which prevented him from playing yesterday. This is a standard test to perform. Evan will probably be available today. God protects you !! #Blessed
— Jason Russell (@jrussellsh4) June 4, 2022
Evan was cleared to play today!!! God is good…to answer all worries and doubts. Evan is good and fair in clarifying what he faced was anxiety, stress and pressure. Basically just the Lord’s concerns and conviction… Evan is awesome!! Thank you everyone!!
— Jason Russell (@jrussellsh4) June 4, 2022
Glad to hear that Evan Russell is feeling better and back with the team. Sad that for the past 24 hours this young man has had to endure speculation and criticism. In the future, I hope the media will prioritize the health of our student-athletes over unfounded rumours.
— Danny White (@AD_DannyWhite) June 4, 2022
ESPN broadcaster Troy Eklund apologizes for his comments about Evan Russell on his show last night. pic.twitter.com/XgJO77vlHI
—Ben McKee (@benmckee14) June 4, 2022
— troy eklund (@troyeklund1) June 4, 2022
Ekeler deserves credit for apologizing, but that’s a serious issue considering the accusations Vandy tried to level against UT and the bats they used during the regular season. Vandy’s coach Tim Corbin has a habit of falsely complaining about the Vols, but combine that with this report, and it makes for an unfair perception.
Back-to-back 4-0 comebacks against Campbell and Georgia Tech helped the Vols qualify for the Super Regionals, and Jordan Beck demonstrated how all Vol fans feel about the situation. In the top of Sunday’s ninth, Beck kicked the tying run to kick off a six-run inning with a brace. He then raised his middle finger.
For what it’s worth, Beck was behind Vandy’s cheating accusations as he was ruled ineligible to play in the series opener against them and had a home run ruled out due to that the bat was allegedly illegal…even though it was scrubbed before the game. He drew the Mike Honcho reference, a throwback to “Talladega Nights.”
Enter Monday. Want to know what the Tennessee baseball series’ outrage story was? Spoiler alert, this wasn’t a fake report on Russell. That was the groan about Beck’s sportsmanship after his gesture during his ninth-inning brace. Twitter was rampant with outrage.
My 6 year old was on the iPad while I watched the end of the Tennessee baseball game last night. She saw that horrible display of sportsmanship. We stopped at Dunkin this morning and as she pulled over she reversed the drive thru. Way to be an example Jordan Beck. #Do better
— J-rod (@JByGodRod) June 6, 2022
Jordan Beck runs around the bases brushing the center back, it’s @Vol_Baseball under Vitello. 0 sportsmanship or class
— Connor (@connor_n_25) June 6, 2022
Seriously, who knocks the opposing team down after a winning move? #classless
— Jeff Mathews (@JeffMat05630064) June 6, 2022
Again, no context came from any of these accounts. Nobody cared about the false accusation of cheating against Beck earlier in the year, combined with what was thrown at Russell on Friday. No, the problem is that the Flights are reacting to this as they run through their regionals.
All of this makes it clear. This NCAA tournament is Rocky Top against the world. Anyone can throw false accusations at them, but they are the ones who have to handle everything like adults. They were the most hated team in the SEC, and now it has reached the nation.
As they prepare to take on college sports darling Notre Dame Fighting Irish in the Super Regionals, that will become clearer. It’s almost the same way the national media branded Notre Dame and the Miami Hurricanes in football as Catholics versus Convicts in the 1980s. Tennessee baseball should continue to embrace hate. It brought them here.