Former Wisconsin Badgers forward Nigel Hayes will go down in school history as one of its best players on the court, and one of the most influential off.
Hayes finished his career third in school history in points (1,857) and is the only UW men’s basketball player in the program’s top 10 in points, rebounds, and assists. Over his four years, Wisconsin went to two Final Fours and came within seconds of moving to the Elite Eight the final two.
Yet for all his accolades in the stats book, Hayes will go down as a critical member to one of Wisconsin’s most memorable senior classes.
Thank you to the @BadgerMBB senior class. A group that won 115 games. A group that made fans cheer, smile, and perhaps most of all--think.— Matt Lepay (@MattLepay) March 25, 2017
On Wednesday, Hayes penned what he called a “commencement address” on The Players’ Tribune. In “Don’t Just Shut Up and Play,” the 6’8 forward talks about his development “intellectually and spiritually” during his time in Madison.
That included putting his thoughts on social media about sports, but also more serious issues. Hayes talks about the reactions on Twitter to his posts, but also how he notes it’s “‘controversial’ to speak your mind” when it comes to sports:
It’s funny how sports is one of the only areas in which it’s “controversial” to speak your mind. We don’t tell doctors to hold their tongues about their beliefs and “stick to medicine.” We don’t tell firemen to “stick to fighting fires” at the expense of standing up for what they think is right. And we don’t even tell students to “stick to being students” and keep our mouths shut about the things that matter in society. If you look closely at the history of social movements for positive change, all over the world, you’ll notice that the college student has been the catalyst for some of modern history’s major social changes. In fact, one of the reasons you go to college — correct me if I’m wrong — is to learn how to think critically about your role in society. So do we judge athletes by different standards?
Hayes recalled the ugly incident during the Wisconsin-Nebraska game from last October, but noted how he and other athletes responded, calling for greater action—which then led to a response by the university to promise changes.
He wraps up his article by stating a challenging to this year’s class:
Never accept it when someone says, “Just shut up and play.” Or whatever the equivalent is in your field.
Don’t accept it when they say, “Stay in your lane.”
Let’s use all possible lanes. Let’s create new lanes. Each of us is more than just the job we do for a few hours a day.
Whether we play basketball or not.
“The paradox of education is precisely this,” James Baldwin wrote, “that as one begins to become conscious, one begins to examine the society in which he is being educated.”
Thank you, Wisconsin, for helping me learn that.
Congratulations to Hayes for graduating and best of luck at the NBA Combine. As B5Q noted last year, he has truly embodied the Wisconsin Idea.
Wisconsin Sports Awards at Camp Randall Stadium
Good Karma Brands, the parent company of ESPN Wisconsin, will be producing its sixth annual Wisconsin Sports Awards live from Camp Randall Stadium. Former Badgers should be highlighted in this year’s event yet again.
Fans can watch on ESPN3 starting at 7 p.m. CST. Tune in, as it should be a great show.
Graduation weekend links
Congratulations to all who are graduating this weekend from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. As a former alum, my time on campus was life-changing and has shaped who I am today.
B5Q may have some “pointers” for the class of 2017 later this week, but for now, here are some stories from those involved with Wisconsin athletics.