An ESPN announcer apologized on Saturday after airing a false report that a Tennessee player had been suspended from the NCAA baseball tournament for using performance-enhancing drugs.
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 No. 1 team in the nation and host of the Knoxville Regional, beat Alabama State 10-0 earlier in the day. He did it without star receiver/outfielder Evan Russell, who was a surprise scratch from the roster.
Eklund, 55, announced that Russell did not 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 is going to have the rest of the team tested tomorrow – or the NCAA is. … Drugs performance-enhancing, so it was said.”
None of these things are true. Russell was not suspended for a failed drug test, and the rest of the Tennessee team was not NCAA drug tested due to the failed drug test. drugs that didn’t happen. It is unclear where Eklund got the information.
Tennessee head coach Tony Vitello told reporters after the Vols’ win on Friday that Russell “was ill this morning”. A Tennessee spokesperson released a statement Saturday morning to local reporters rebutting Eklund’s claim.
“Evan Russell’s absence last night had nothing to do with a violation of team, NCAA or SEC rules,” the statement read.
Russell’s father, Jason Russell, wrote on Twitter early Saturday that Russell “has a medical condition” and “hasn’t failed any type of test or anything.”
He clarified later Saturday morning that Russell experienced “anxiety, stress and pressure” and was cleared to play.
Tennessee athletic director Danny White confirmed 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 spreading “inaccurate and unsourced information”.
“I would like to take this opportunity to apologize to Evan Russell of Tennessee and the Volunteer Program for the inaccurate and unsourced information that I used Friday night during the Stillwater Regional,” Eklund said. “It was used in error and should not have been referenced. I regret any injury or harm it may have caused.”
He posted another apology on Twitter later on Saturday.
Russell did not start Saturday’s game against Campbell. Vitello confirmed before the match that Russell was “feeling better” and cleared for activity while anticipating the team would “get him back into the situation”.
“I don’t know if he’ll start today, but it’ll be great to have him in the park,” Vitello told “The Leadoff Man’s” John Wilkerson.
In 52 games this season, Russell hit .299 with 13 homers, 43 RBIs and stole six bases. He helped lead the Vols to their first SEC championship since 1995.