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ESPN slammed for alleged slave imagery in fantasy football auction

Odell Beckham Jr. took offense to an ESPN segment that featured him and other NFL players being auctioned in a fantasy football draft. "... we understand the optics could be portrayed as offensive, and we apologize,” ESPN said in a statement. (Al Bello/Getty Images)

ESPN apologized in a statement to USA Today on Tuesday night for a fantasy football auction segment that offended viewers by drawing parallels to a slave auction.

Social media erupted with outrage over images of a white man holding up a picture of black players while a crowd of white people eagerly submitted bids to "own" the player.

"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 to USA Today.

Indeed, auction drafts have been a common staple in fantasy football for years, and players of various races were auctioned off in the segment. However, the images that were isolated by upset viewers highlighted the black players being sold, comparing it to slaves being auctioned off to the highest bidder.

Prominent professional athletes such as New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., one of the players auctioned, and Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant expressed their displeasure over the segment on Twitter.



The segment's imagery was similar to a silent auction scene in the racially-charged thriller film "Get Out," which was written and directed by Jordan Peele as a thinly veiled commentary on racial tension in the present day.

The uproar comes during a time in which race relations and conversations are highly volatile, just days after the "Unite the Right" white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, erupted into violence as counterprotesters engaged the "alt-right" and neo-Nazi protesters gathered.

Despite the outcry against it, the segment was merely a television representation of a fantasy football drafting system that is widely used in leagues all over the country.

In auction drafts, team owners are given a set amount of "salary" to use to bid on players for their teams. Owners nominate players for bidding, and then all the owners submit their bids. The high bidder claims the player for their team.

Still, that context seemed to be ignored in the criticism of the segment, with viewers demanding ESPN apologize and chastising the network for being tone-deaf of the current political climate.

Chances are that this "scandal" won't prevent millions of fantasy football fans from participating in auction-style drafts in their leagues as the NFL regular season approaches.

Recent studies estimate more than 57 million people play fantasy football every year, with millions of dollars spent on leagues.

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