ESPN Got Some ‘Splaining to Do

ESPN Screenshot

This week has been a whirlwind for me. I just moved to a city I’ve frequently visited, but have never lived in to start a new job. I’m still going through orientation and will probably be doing some sort of training for the next month or so. One of the most remarkable aspects about my job is how much accountability there is. I have serious responsibilities, and while there is room for error, the system of checks and balances in place should reduce that as much as possible.

I’m working with a competent, experienced team who have assured me that despite the overwhelming amount of information I’m being exposed to over the next couple weeks, I’ll be up and running in no time. Why? Because they will be paying attention to everything I do. They will correct me when I make a mistake and screen me through my various duties. There is a constant stream of communication between my team members, and we all know what each other’s daily agendas are. At first glance, it seems a little daunting, but I find it reassuring. I know what my job is, and I know people are watching to make sure I do my job.

I share all this to express how baffled I am that ESPN aired an auction skit, allowing white men to bid for ownership of Odell Beckham Jr. and other black players. How, sway? How? Where are the checks and balances? The accountability? How did the idea for an auction skit get floated during a meeting, then signed off on, developed, actors hired, a script developed, the camera recording…without NO ONE saying, “Hold up, this is a really bad idea?” Especially in today’s racially charged climate?

ESPN, like other companies that have royally screwed up by airing dumb stuff, has apologized but the damage has been done. It needs to be acknowledged that there were white players auctioned in the skit, including Tom Brady. I also get that the skit was a riff on the auctioneering format of fantasy football. However, neither of those facts nullify that the skit was still was not a good look.

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The NFL has already been getting plenty of bad press from the fallout of Colin Kaepernick not being signed by a team. As the dynamic of predominantly black bodies being used to generate enormous profit for white billionaires becomes more glaringly problematic, it would behoove ESPN, the NFL, and any other relevant acronym to at least pretend like they care about inclusivity.

Arguably, there isn’t a better or worse time for something like this to happen. With everything going on in Charlottesville, it’s grossly insensitive to air such a thing. By the same token, the events in Charlottesville are probably keeping more attention from being given to such a gross blunder.

Media matters. On average, Americans spend eight hours a day consuming media. That’s a full-time job. Consuming anything in such large quantities is bound to shape how we perceive reality. This is why it’s crucial to have a multiplicity of voices presented in media. Whenever something is too homogenous, there is a lack of accountability and errors such as ESPN’s skit occur. The skit connects with the truth behind why Charlottesville is prompting people to demand for the removal of Confederate statues all over the country. The connecting truth is the content we produce has real consequences. Whether that content is a comedic sketch or a statue, it contains imagery demonstrating our values as a society. Considering some of the values in the conflation of hyper-capitalism, sports, and nationalism, it’s not all that shocking that ESPN produced that skit. But considering the burgeoning realization rolling through Americans regarding just how harmful many of those values are, it’s not shocking that skit caused a large portion of its audience to recoil in disgust.

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