ESPN Drops Ball With Fantasy Football Skit Resembling Slave Auction

    The NFL season is on our doorsteps and that means the lucrative and ever-growing fantasy football frenzy is also here. 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.

    During the first hour of the extravaganza, they 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.

    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 LeVeon Bell, but by then it was already too late. 

    The social media moshpit went on the attack claiming that 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.

    In fact, Twitter nation lashed out at anybody it could find easily accessible, especially the high profile African-American employees at ESPN like Jemele Hill. 

    Jemele Hill on Twitter

    So this gonna be one of those days where y’all gonna make me take a timeout from being black. https://t.co/Y9EZ1lWij6

    Damn. 

    ESPN cant even have a fantasy draft with a little flair and fun to it without the backlash of Trumps divisive presidency coming into play. 

    Im sure there are a growing number of people who feel that being politically correct has seemed to destroy creativity and comedy. Im not going to disagree with that, unfortunately, that’s too bad for the ESPN producers who thought of the skit. It never crossed their creative minds that people could see it as an imitation of the slave trade.

    And even if you accuse the ESPN big wigs of being racist and the African- American employees of being accepting of prejudice in the workplace, you still can’t honestly think that they thought it would be offensive. 

    The Twitter world, however, is coming at Hill because they assume she had access to a private viewing of the segment before it ran or something. Well, she didn’t and she’s not a producer or an executive. 

    Shes an on-air personality whose life doesn’t revolve around critiquing her co-workers and bosses. I think she’s done more to speak out for black causes and black lives and been suspended for her stances on race enough to give her a pass and know that if she was in the room with the geniuses who came up with this idea, that she’d definitely let them know it might rub some folks the wrong way in light of the current climate in this country and the recent white supremacist fiasco in Charlottesville. 

    I spoke with Hill and she defended her station, one that she hasnt always sided with when it comes to issues and the way African-Americans are portrayed. 

    They got caught in a bad optic, Hill told me. You cant have a bunch of white folks bidding at an auction . If there would have been more black faces of women in the crowd, nobody would have said anything.

    There are two sides here. The African Americans who see a corporate giant run by predominantly white males being insensitive to African Americans and the horrors of slavery with a fantasy football skit gone wrong. Then there are the folks who are really tired of the way everything is somehow turned into a race issue. You can’t even have comedy anymore without somebody on social media getting their pants in a bunch. 

    What this situation really proves, however, is that while ESPN execs may not be racist, the company has and continues to lack strong African American voices with real power and control over what is aired. ESPN prides itself on diversity but throwing a few women, gays and blacks on some shows doesn’t actually diversify the decision-making process of corporate presidents and high ranking decision makers. 

    The narrative isn’t that ESPN is racist or sought out to emulate a slave auction. It’s more about the lack of people of color at the highest levels of decision making, which has led to a cultural misunderstanding and ignorance as to what’s acceptable and not acceptable to blacks. 

    And the tastemakers at ESPN definitely need to come down from their million dollar palaces tucked away in the suburbs of some plush, predominantly white community and consider millions of minorities that support and watch their network everyday, and going forward, be more meticulous with their understanding of what is and is not acceptable to all races, creeds and colors of people. 

    Most importantly, just stay on top of the news and listen to the people and stay abreast of what’s going on right now. Any other month and no one really makes a big deal about it. Very bad timing to say the least. Especially with African-Americans still feeling offended at Colin Kaepernick being blackballed by the league’s white ownership because he took a stand against racism and oppression in this country. 

    Most people probably recognize the humor that was intended and the fact that ESPN had to fill hours of TV time. But to air that, just a few days after people were maliciously run down by a white supremacist during a demonstration, is downright stupid and it’s the kind of ignorance and social unawareness that usually causes someone to lose their job. 

     ESPN has issued the following statement about the segment in response to the criticism:

     Auction drafts are a common part of fantasy football, and ESPNs segments replicated an auction draft with a diverse slate of top professional football players. Without that context, we understand the optics could be portrayed as offensive, and we apologize.

    Its a shame that the climate in this country makes everything such a big deal but to African Americans slavery IS a big deal and we are tired of providing the entertainment and sacrificing our dignity so that people who never experience the racism and oppression we endure can have a quick laugh 

    Those days are over.

    JR Gamble joined The Shadow League in 2012. The General Manager of Content & Social Media is in his 25th year of covering sports and culture professionally. He has covered a wide variety of major sports and entertainment topics across different mediums, including radio, newspapers, magazines and national TV. His passion is baseball, the culturing of baseball and preserving and documenting the historically-impactful accomplishments and contributions of African-Americans in baseball.