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ESPN Apologizes for ‘Auctioning’ Off Black Football Players in Charlottesville Aftermath

ESPN logo during ESPN The Party in San Francisco on February 5, 2016.
ESPN logo during ESPN The Party in San Francisco on February 5, 2016.Mike Windle/Getty Images for ESPN

ESPN has issued an apology for airing a sketch that “auctioned” off black football players in the aftermath of the violent riots in Charlottesville, Virginia.

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At one point during the sports network’s 28-hour fantasy football marathon, which kicked off on Monday, August 14, an auctioneer was shown holding up photos of several NFL stars attached to popsicle sticks while “selling” them to a predominantly white audience.

Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown and New York Giants favorite Odell Beckham Jr. were among the athletes who were “auctioned” off. “Speechless,” Beckham Jr., 24, captioned a Twitter clip of the segment, in which he was “sold” to the winning bidder for $34.

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Some Twitter users pointed out that white athletes, including New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and tight end Rob Gronkowski, were also included in the “auction,” though the majority of the clips that went viral featured black men.

“Dear @ESPN, Apologize now for doing a sketch where you auctioned a Black man off to the highest bidder,” New York Daily News senior justice writer Shaun King tweeted. Former NFL player Steve White added, “How. How does not one person stand up and say ‘Yooooooo maybe let’s not do this.’ ?!?!”

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ESPN apologized for the sketch on Tuesday, August 15. “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,” the network said in a statement to USA Today. “Without that context, we understand the optics could be portrayed as offensive, and we apologize.”

The “auction” aired just two days after white nationalists held a violent rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, where one man allegedly drove a car into a group of counter-protestors, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer and injuring 19 others.

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