ESPN got the wakeup call of a lifetime after facing backlash for a fantasy football draft sketch that was reminiscent of a slave auction.
During the network’s “Fantasy Football Marathon,” a segment that showed fantasy competitors bidding for NFL players in the form of an auction was aired, The Star reports.
The sketch featured a white auctioneer holding up Popsicle sticks with faces of different players — both white and of color — to a seemingly majority white audience of bidders. Many viewers criticized the network using the sketch, particularly after the Charlottesville, Virginia, chaos.
They hosted a slave auction on ESPN and mascaraed it as a NFL draft— David (@DWash300) August 15, 2017
ESPN sold Odell on an auction block to a crowd of White people. In 2017.— DJ Steph Floss (@djstephfloss) August 15, 2017
Soooooo ESPN just did an "auction" sketch 🤔 pic.twitter.com/zvezCItems— Jᴀsᴏɴ (@rjasonscales) August 14, 2017
ESPN has since apologized for the disturbing imagery, but explained that auction drafts are a common and known aspect of fantasy football.
“Auction drafts are a common part of fantasy football, and ESPN’s segments replicated an auction draft with a diverse slate of top professional football players,” ESPN said in a statement. “Without that context, we understand the optics could be portrayed as offensive, and we apologize.”
Be that as it may, the current social and political climates should have been enough for ESPN officials to think twice about airing this sketch, especially immediately following one of the biggest gatherings of white supremacists in recent history where violence and tragedy struck.
"Certainly, a situation like this calls into question whether ESPN has enough people in leadership positions who would instinctively understand and make note of the potential reaction to this segment," Matthew Zimmerman, an assistant professor of sport studies at Mississippi State University, reportedly told USA TODAY Sports via Facebook Messenger.
Some — particularly fantasy football enthusiasts who are more familiar with these auction drafts — may say that the reaction to the sketch was blown out of proportion and they may even argue that people are being overly sensitive; however, with emotions running high and racial tensions getting stronger by the day; how can you not be sensitive?
Furthermore, the NFL is already being viewed through a critical lens as they’ve symbolically shown their lack of support for minorities in this country by blackballing former San Francisco 49ers' quarterback Colin Kaepernick following his national anthem protests against police brutality last season.
With this in mind, it's no surprise that all things NFL-related would be put under a microscope, and ESPN should have considered these perspectives before airing such jarring content.
Banner/Thumbnail Photo Credit: Reuters, Mike Blake