The NFL season kicks off in just a few weeks, which means it’s time for everyone to prepare for their fantasy football drafts. ESPN marked the occasion with a 28-hour Fantasy Football Marathon running from 7 p.m. ET on Monday night to 11 p.m. ET on Tuesday night.
Let’s just say the marathon did not get off to a good start.
During the first hour of the extravaganza, ESPN showcased a sketch that featured a white man auctioning off the rights to black New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. to a predominantly white crowd.
Soooooo ESPN just did an “auction” sketch 🤔 pic.twitter.com/zvezCItems
— Jᴀsᴏɴ (@rjasonscales) August 14, 2017
Obviously, this was a mock fantasy football draft, which is a fun game that millions upon millions of Americans play every year. This was a sketch the network returned to multiple times, featuring multiple players, while trying to fill 48 hours of programming. In the second hour of the program, ESPN showed New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, a white player, being auctioned off, before later showing auction attendees bidding on Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell.
However, even fantasy football doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and it’s safe to say the optics of this sketch were not ideal. The image of a black man being auctioned off by a white man and being “sold” to the highest bidder is reminiscent of a slave auction.
This would have been hard to stomach at any time, but it’s a particularly striking visual just days after a violent white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia about the removal of a confederate statue left three people dead. And it’s also hard to watch during a time when a black NFL player is being blackballed from the league for speaking out about systemic racism.
ESPN has showed an impressive commitment to diversity in recent years, but it is still a company predominantly run by white men. Some more diversity behind the scenes might have helped prevent something like this from making it to the airwaves.