ESPN sorry for fantasy football sketch compared to slave auction as Kevin Durant and Odell Beckham Jnr respond

Segment features white auctioneer holding up sticks with faces of several black players to what appeared to be an assemblage of mostly white bidders

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 16 August, 2017, 11:40am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 16 August, 2017, 11:58am

What it intended as an entertaining fantasy football scene, ESPN realised too late, at times bore an uncomfortable resemblance to a slave auction.

As part of its 28-hour multichannel, multiplatform “Fantasy Football Marathon” – an effort to play off the popularity of the game and spur interest in its own fantasy offerings – the sports channel had fantasy competitors bidding for NFL players both white and of colour.

Completing the outdoor scene was an auctioneer, which might have seemed like a lark back in the planning stages.

Some in the audience still might have seen it as fun or even funny and will complain they don’t know what the big deal was or is.

The sketch featured a white auctioneer holding up ice lolly sticks with faces of players to what appeared to be an assemblage of mostly white bidders.

For many viewers, it was a bad look, especially coming after a weekend of white supremacist-led violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.

The record will show Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Rob Gronkowski were among the players bid on.

But it was seeing African-American players, such as Le’Veon Bell and Odell Beckham Jnr, auctioned off that was discomforting.

“Speechless,” Beckham, who fetched US$34 in the ESPN auction, tweeted in response to a question about it.

ESPN, which prides itself on an excellent record of inclusion and sensitivity, didn’t immediately discern the jarring imagery a number of people would see immediately but explained itself and apologised after the piece had run.

“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.

“Without that context, we understand the optics could be portrayed as offensive, and we apologise.”