An ESPN announcer apologized Saturday after broadcasting a false report that a Tennessee player was suspended from the NCAA baseball tournament for performance-enhancement drug use.
ESPN’s Troy Eklund, a former Arkansas baseball player, made the statement during Friday’s broadcast of an Oklahoma State-Missouri State game. Tennessee, the nation’s No. 1 team and host of the Knoxville Regional, defeated Alabama State 10-0 earlier in the day. It did so without star catcher/outfielder Evan Russell, who was a surprise scratch from the lineup.
Eklund, 55, announced that Russell didn’t play because he failed a drug test.
“It was pretty crazy,” Eklund said. “He failed a drug test. So Evan Russell is suspended for the rest of the season. So Tennessee’s gonna have the whole rest of the team tested tomorrow — or the NCAA is. … “
Neither of those things is substantiated. Russell wasn’t suspended for a failed drug test, and the rest of the Tennessee team wasn’t subject to NCAA drug testing because of the failed drug test that didn’t happen. It’s unclear where Eklund got the information.
Tennessee head coach Tony Vitello told reporters after the Vols’ win on Friday that Russell “was sick this morning.” A Tennessee spokesperson issued a statement to local reporters Saturday morning refuting Eklund’s claim.
“Evan Russell’s absence last night had nothing to do with any violation of team, NCAA or SEC rules,” the statement reads.
Russell’s father Jason Russell wrote on Twitter early Saturday that Russell “had a health issue arise” and that “he hasn’t failed any type of test or anything.”
He clarified later Saturday morning that Russell had been experiencing “anxiety, stress and pressure” and that he’d been cleared to play.
Tennessee athletic director Danny White confirmed that Russell was back with the team and condemned the “speculation and criticism” he “had to endure.”
Eklund was back on the air Saturday for ESPN’s NCAA tournament coverage. He apologized to Russell and Tennessee for broadcasting “inaccurate, unsourced information.”
“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. “It was used in error and should not have been referenced. I regret any hurt or harm that it might have caused.”
He issued another apology on Twitter later Saturday.
Russell didn’t start Saturday’s game against Campbell. Vitello confirmed pregame that Russell “was feeling better” and cleared for activity while anticipating that the team would “ease him back into the situation.”
“I don’t know that he’ll start today, but it will be great to have him up at the park,” Vitello told “The Leadoff Man’s” John Wilkerson.
In 52 games this season, Russell hit .299 with 13 home runs, 43 RBI and stole six bases. He helped lead the Vols to their first SEC championship since 1995.