Nigel Hayes, a University of Wisconsin senior and former star forward on the Bagder men’s basketball team, wrote a commencement address of his own in The Players Tribune yesterday, and offered some stark advice to those preparing to leave college and go out into the world: Don’t “stay in your lane.”
In the past two years, Hayes has made a name for himself an outspoken advocate for paying athletes and critic of racial inequality as a leader in what the New York Times called the “most political locker room in college basketball.”
On Wednesday, Hayes wrote in The Players Tribune about his evolution as a social and political thinker and described how his active Twitter presence — where he routinely comments on social, political and racial issues — drew three kinds of responses: trolls, supporters and those who just wanted to say, “Just shut up and stick to playing basketball.”
“The message was clear: The views of athletes are of no value — we’re dumb and we should accept our roles as robots that make baskets and give brief press conferences,” Hayes wrote. “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 went on to advise everyone to push outside their careers paths to prompt social progress.
“My challenge to the class of 2017 is this: Never accept it when someone says, ‘Just shut up and play.’ Or whatever the equivalent is in your field,” he wrote. “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.”
And of course Hayes didn’t miss the opportunity to hit the issue of pay for student-athletes.
“It shouldn’t even be a controversial notion,” he wrote. “After all, I’m a finance major. It’s just the simple law of supply and demand, sprinkled with principles of the American market economy. Isn’t it interesting that collegiate athletics is one of the only American industries that doesn’t feel the need to abide by those same rules? (Psst, I learned that in college, while playing basketball.)”
Hayes is finishing up his finals and preparing for the NBA draft on June 22.