University of Wisconsin basketball players Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes have been making waves this offseason for everything but basketball.
From the Keystone Pipeline to collegiate athletes getting paid, the two have taken some pretty profound stances that hit home for each of them and are attracting national attention. Despite the laid back and comical nature Koenig and Hayes have had in front of a microphone in the past, the two have put on stern faces to address what problems they see affecting them before they lose the publicity in the coming year.
Issues like these have been front and center lately due to 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick-led protests in the NFL and athletes like Carmelo Anthony speaking out against police brutality. In line with Madison’s political history and nature, Wisconsin’s own athletes have been known to take stands for things they believe in and representing a better conversation than this current election.
Koenig, a member of the Ho-Chunk nation, has been outspoken against the use of Native Americans names as mascots, including the Washington Redskin’s. The senior point guard has displayed a strong connection with his native heritage this offseason and has been as vocal as possible as of late.
“With the mascots and all that stuff I think people think its OK to make fun of us,” Koenig told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “I feel like sometimes we are the lowest of the low among the minorities … and when a Native American kid sees that growing up and see disrespect, it lowers their self-esteem and puts them in a lower place in society.”
He later went on to explain how the name Redskins refers to Native Americans being skinned. The issue of the Washington, D.C. football team has offended many across athletes in the U.S., and has been overlooked according to the LaCrosse, Wisconsin native.
Koenig’s loyalty to his heritage was put on full display earlier this fall when he joined the protests of the North Dakota pipeline, an oil pipeline that cuts through sacred tribal land. Koenig drove the 11 hours to North Dakota, joining his older brother and athletic trainer Clint Parks.
In addition to joining the protests, Koenig also hosted an impromptu basketball clinic for the local kids. Koenig is a massive figure in the Native American community — a young leader in a community with few athletes representing them as proudly as Koenig. In his short time in the national spotlight, he has proved he does not take this role lightly and does not intend on standing idly by when he has been given a platform to make a change, much like his teammate Hayes.
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Hayes’ outspoken nature has made him a polarizing figure in the world of NCAA politics, to say the least. His latest display came during ESPN’s College GameDay, when he help up a sign that read, “Broke College Athlete. Anything Helps.” The sign listed a Venmo account for people to send money to. He then gave all the money to the Boys and Girls Club.
College GameDay is certainly an appropriate place for Hayes’s protest of the NCAA’s policy that disallows any form of payment to the athletes.
SB Nation reported that ESPN and other networks pay handsomely to air Big Ten sports. Starting next year, the conference will pull in $440 million per year to broadcast football and basketball. Reports suggest Wisconsin will receive about $40 million of that income directly.
This doesn’t include the income Wisconsin receives from their new Under Armor deal. The article later mentions how Athletic Director Barry Alvarez, as well as Paul Chryst and Greg Gard make millions.
Many, however, are skeptical of the 6-8 forward, since he debated declaring for the NBA draft last year, potentially turning down a huge pay-day. If he was drafted late in the first round as some projected him, Hayes could have made more than $2 million in his first two years in the league.
One of these skeptics is Marquette University guard Duane Wilson. In a series of tweets, Wilson condemned Hayes’ protests as a social media stunt for attention. Wilson mentioned he has a son and said “it’s a blessing to even get a free education.”
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Both Hayes and Koenig have been placed on the preseason All-Big Ten team, along with teammate Ethan Happ. A panel of Big Ten media also declared Hayes Big Ten Preseason Player of the Year and the coaches poll has the Badgers at No. 10 in the nation and third in the Big Ten this year.
Hopefully, the two seniors can create the same kind of buzz on the court this year in their first full season with coach Greg Gard, an outspoken defendant of the duo’s activism.