ESPN released a statement apologizing for a segment in which an auctioneer "sold" players, both white and black. The segment drew significant criticism, as many noted on social media that the auctions bore resemblance to a slave auction.
"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. Without that context, we understand the optics could be portrayed as offensive, and we apologize,” ESPN said in a statement to USA TODAY Sports.
The segment was aired in wake of the gathering of multiple white supremacist groups in Charlottesville, Va. On Friday, white supremacist groups marched on the University of Virginia campus chanting racial epithets and intimidating counter-protestors, and there were multiple demonstrations and confrontations over the weekend. The situation turned violent, and one person was killed when a white supremacist drove his car into a group of counter-protestors.
Auction drafts are somewhat common in fantasy sports. In auction leagues, each team is given the opportunity to bid on a player, with the highest bidder securing the player's services. That in itself could present ethical concerns, and yes, white players were "sold" too. But ESPN's choice to bring on an auctioneer to sell black men is remarkably terrible optics and betrays a lack of diversity in whatever group approved the segment.
NFL players including Odell Beckham Jr. expressed distaste for the network’s choice to air the auction bit. Beckham was one of the players ‘auctioned off’ in the segment.
It wasn't just football players who chimed in—Kevin Durant didn't seem too fond of the segment, either.