Wisconsin Basketball And The Hunger For More

New York Times –  The Wisconsin basketball players Nigel Hayes and Jordan Hill took a step behind their teammates during the national anthem before the ninth-ranked Badgers’ season opener on Friday. It was another in a long series of visible protests from one of college basketball’s most socially aware locker rooms.

Hayes, a senior who was named the preseason Big Ten player of the year, has lobbied for players to be paid, serving as a plaintiff in a lawsuit seeking a freer market for top athletes and once showing up to an ESPN “College GameDay” set sardonically identifying himself as a “broke athlete.” Hayes has also posted about the Black Lives Matter movement to his more than 80,000 Twitter followers and recently joined other Wisconsin athletes in demanding university action after a fan appeared in a mask of President Obama and a noose at a Badgers home football game.

Hill, a redshirt junior, also writes provocatively on Twitter. And in September, Wisconsin’s starting point guard, the senior Bronson Koenig, traveled to support protesters of the Dakota Access pipeline, many of whom are, like him, Native American.


In a sit-down interview with three players from what the New York Times has labeled “College Basketball’s Most Political Locker Room”, the curtain gets peeled back a little bit on what life is like for these three guys who continue to put more responsibilities on their plate. Nigel Hayes has taken the role as the vocal leader of not only Wisconsin’s  basketball team, but for all Division 1 athletes who struggle to find their place amongst their fellow students.

Whether it is the fight for the right to be paid, taking a stand against police brutality, or protesting the Dakota Access pipeline, these guys are there and ready to use their platform to extend their influence.  But what will it really do?

I am skeptical of what immediate benefits these guys will be able to enjoy, but what is obvious is that they don’t care about all of that. The causes they are fighting for will never go away, but as they reach the tail end of their  college careers it is important to note that they are not simply falling in line. They are carrying the torch, and the spotlight has never been brighter.

 

Advertisements

Silence Should Not Be Rewarded

The Boston Globe – Sports and politics are both cutthroat competitive. They both revere history. They both inspire wall-to-wall coverage and hyperbolizing pundits. They both require energizing bases — fan and voter. In both, logic and viewpoint are often dictated by loyalty to a particular team.


Athletes have a right to express their political opinions and participate in the process. However, we shouldn’t assume their stances are more noble or informed.

Just because (LeBron) James is a franchise player that doesn’t mean he is qualified to tell people what to do with their franchise.

But the athlete who is willing to put himself or herself out there with a view that could alienate some of their fans and upset their brands has my respect. That includes athletes whose beliefs and opinions may not be ones I share.


 

While the above article was written in a world where Donald Trump was simply the Republican candidate for the Presidency, Chris Gasper of The Boston Globe perfectly explains why it is important for athletes to not shy away from their beliefs, and throughout the article Gasper draws parallels between sports and politics.

In a way, this is a continuation of my post regarding Tom Brady and his line stepping when it came to his inability to be public about how he supported his “good friend” Donald Trump.

It is understandable why an athlete that is on the edge of super-stardom might be less willing to be vocal about their opinions regarding real issues., especially on politics. While it might not be fair to discredit an athlete for remaining quiet, it is important to revere those who do not allow themselves to be simply another cog in the machine.

Gasper gives the example of Curt Schilling, who’s opinions are less than relatable for me. However, I agree with Gasper in the sense that while you can question his stance on certain issues, you can’t question his passion and willingness to risk his career in order for his voice to be heard. Silly, stupid, absurd. These are all words you can use to describe an athlete that you feel doesn’t see through the same lens as you.  But the discussion they provide in the public sphere is more important than the actual hot takes.

It All Started With A Red Hat

tom-brady-donald-trump-hat-0303-jpg
WCVB (September 2015)

CSNNE (Tom E. Curran)- I don’t know whether Brady will ever go on-the-record and “correct” Trump on his version of locker-room talk. Maybe deep down he’s thinking if he hadn’t willingly allowed Trump to glom onto him 15 years ago, he wouldn’t be dealing with this crap now.

But at the same time, Brady obviously enjoys the friendship. Fun guy, good golf, nice courses, great cigars and all that.

Saying nothing means remaining loyal to Donald Trump as a friend, protecting the brand and staying above the fray.

But saying something — even something as simple as “I didn’t like the comments…” — will be remembered longer than any cigar or round of golf.

For a man who’s been very much surrounded and formed by powerful, confident, capable women — his mother Galynn, sisters Julie, Maureen and Nancy, his wife Gisele — it’s unfathomable that Brady thinks for a nanosecond Trump’s comments aren’t a big deal.

He really ought to say so. 


Confession. I’m a big fan of Tom Brady. The reality of my life as a New England Patriots fan having already peaked is a sad one, but I wouldn’t trade the memories for anything. I have Tom Brady to thank for that.

Now, let’s just say my feelings for Donald Trump land somewhere on the complete opposite side of that spectrum. So the friendship that has blossomed between the two is a bit of a sore subject for me. Ever since Brady showcased one of Trump’s “Make America Great Again” hats in his locker during media availability the link between the two has been the elephant in the room yet following his silent endorsement Brady has been tight-lipped on the subject.

It always made sense to me. Brady has created a brand, something that very few NFL players are able to do. The league is designed to take from the players much more than it gives. It has the least effective players association and the shortest average career length of the big four American professional sports. But Brady catapulted himself to that tier of athletes who transcend their sport into the public eye. He stayed quiet, deflected questions about Trump just like he would a question about last week’s game. Very clearly his camp identified the questions as toxic and he stayed far, far away. But now Trump has stepped directly into his life. A week following the release of Trump’s tour bus discussion with Billy Bush where they glorified sexual assault which  Trump simply wrote off as ‘locker room talk’, Trump sang Brady’s praises at a rally in New Hampshire.

Brady has been vigilant in his efforts to profess his friendship with Trump while also asking to remain out of any political discussion. This is where Brady draws the line. As Tom E. Curran wrote for Comcast Sports Net New England, this is also where Brady must acknowledge that Trump crossed that line and he would do a lot of good by coming out with a statement and peeling back the curtain a little bit.

This is where I draw the line. This is where Brady needs to step up and say something. In a way, this will always be the difference between Brady and David Ortiz, the two most important athletes of my life. Ortiz was an extravagant force in a sport that is more accessible than any other. A summer with the Red Sox dominating the sports media cycle always meant a healthy dose of Ortiz sound bites and highlights. With Brady and the Patriots, you are permanently on the outside looking in. Brady never gives you a real look behind the curtain. Now more than ever it feels like  I don’t want to know what is really going on between Brady’s ears and that’s just the way he wants it. His brand off the field is the same as the one on it.  Unflappable, charismatic, excellent. But his personal life is a lot like when he is on the field, Brady wants you to enjoy it from a distance.

Maybe I should have listened to Mike Felger after Brady’s incident with the Trump hat when he took to the radio waves to poke fun at the reluctance of Patriots fans to acknowledge that Tom Brady might be a little stranger than we would like. The truth is, Patriot’s fans don’t want to know. But Brady’s actions makes it hard to not wonder how it got to this point.