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.
So, ESPN announcers decided to say Tennessee’s Evan Russell was suspended for PED’s according to “reports and speculation” and that the NCAA would now be testing the whole team.
Where is this report that stated this about Russell? pic.twitter.com/HnsG0GfciZ
— Trey Wallace (@TreyWallace_) June 4, 2022
"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. ... Performance-enhancing drugs is what it was said."
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."
Evan will an evaluation/physical with the Doctor this morning. He hasn’t failed any type of test or anything.He had a health issue arise that kept from from playing Yesterday. This is standard testing to be done. Evan will most likely be available today. God bless !! #Blessed
— Jason Russell (@jrussellsh4) June 4, 2022
He clarified later Saturday morning that Russell had been experiencing "anxiety, stress and pressure" and that he'd been cleared to play.
Evan has been cleared to play today !!! God is good… to answer all concerns and doubt. Evan is good and just to clarify what’s he been dealing with is anxiety, stress and pressure. Basically just the worries and conviction of the Lord… Evan’s Great!! Thanks to everyone!!
— Jason Russell (@jrussellsh4) June 4, 2022
Tennessee athletic director Danny White confirmed that Russell was back with the team and condemned the "speculation and criticism" he "had to endure."
Thrilled to update that Evan Russell is feeling better and back with the team. Sad that over the last 24 hours this young man has had to endure speculation and criticism. In the future I hope that the media will prioritize the health of our student-athletes over unfounded rumors.
— Danny White (@AD_DannyWhite) June 4, 2022
Eklund was back on the air Saturday for ESPN's NCAA tournament coverage. He apologized to Russell and Tennessee for broadcasting "inaccurate, unsourced information."
ESPN broadcaster Troy Eklund apologizes for his comments about Evan Russell on his broadcast last night. pic.twitter.com/XgJO77vlHI
— Ben McKee (@benmckee14) June 4, 2022
"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.
Tony Vitello spoke with John Wilkerson on the Leadoff Man about the status of Evan Russell. pic.twitter.com/00S5Ir7KFP
— Callum (@callum_vol) June 4, 2022
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.