Wisconsin sports becoming frontlines for Anthem protests

MADISON, Wis. — It’s becoming a ubiquitous scene in the sports world; athletes kneeling or using other forms of protest during the playing of the National Anthem before sporting events.

The idea was reborn on Aug. 26 when San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick decided to take a stand by sitting down during the Anthem before their preseason game against the Green Bay Packers. Kaepernick defended himself from the critics by pointing to the fact that many African-Americans have been facing racial injustices and he refuses to “show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.”

His supporters heard him loud and clear. Coach Mike McCarthy took the message back to Green Bay and said that while he’d personally prefer his players to stand for the Anthem, he said there needs to be open dialogue about the issues facing people of color.

 

NBA players don’t have a choice but to stand during the playing of the National Anthem due to a rule put in place by then-commissioner David Stern in 1996. The rule was in response to Denver Nuggets guard Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, who didn’t participate in the pregame ceremony the previous season, instead either remaining in the locker room or stretching on the sidelines. His actions cost him almost $32,000 of his $2.6 million salary while he was suspended for one game.

The Milwaukee Bucks obeyed that rule in Monday night’s preseason win over the Chicago Bulls, standing in solidarity while still pointing to the racial issues plaguing the country. The team, as well as the entire coaching staff, stood in a line with their arm draped over the shoulder of the man next to him.

Forward Jabari Parker told media members after the game that it was important for the team to show support for the movement but to also be respectful.

“It just shows that through it all, thick and thin, you’ve got to have each other’s back,” Parker said. “Regardless of your skin color, regardless of your race or where you come from if you see something happening you’ve got to speak up, you’ve got to stand for change.

Bucks president Peter Feigin has been outspoken about diversity in recent weeks, telling the Rotary Club in Madison, Wis. that racism and segregation are a big component of what’s creating a divide in Milwaukee and that their construction of a new arena and entertainment district aims to bring togetherness through a common goal.

But it doesn’t end in Milwaukee.

University of Wisconsin forward Nigel Hayes isn’t afraid to voice his opinion on controversial issues, joining a class-action lawsuit against the NCAA in an effort to financially compensate student-athletes for their roles to the university. His Twitter account has also come to the forefront with his thoughts on racial inequality and racism.

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Hayes’ coach, Greg Gard, supported his star player for his stance, while admitting it’s been a learning experience for him as well.

 

Even at the high school level players are taking part in the pregame protests. During Madison East’s Sept. 23 Homecoming game against Madison West, the entire team took a kneel prior to the game, while some coaching staff members did as well. That was met with some resistance, however, as one anonymous staff member responded to a text message with the response “No [I don’t care to comment]. And my players are off limits too, so don’t reach out to them. Direct all questions to the administration.”

Members of the community have taken action during this trying time. Madison West police officer Reggie Davis, who grew up on the city’s east side and dealt with racial issues of his own, took part in a gathering this weekend for “Madison’s Premiere Black Male Photo Shoot.” It was an event featuring several prominent black community members whose goal was to show they can be role models and should not be depicted as thugs.

Davis is a former semi-professional football player for the Madison Mustangs and Madison Wolves. He says although he recently retired, he is still supportive of his peers’ cause.

“I would have respected [my teammates] for expressing their right to protest,” Davis said in a direct message. “We all don’t have to agree with the approach of a protest but we can respect a person for standing up for what they believe in.”

There’s no denying racial inequality has once again become an important issue, but it’s the ability to speak freely about one’s stance that’s needed to make the necessary changes so that all made lead a better life.

Davis: All-Time Semi-Pro TD record starts with balance

He knelt down in the end zone with ball in hand, calmly reflecting upon himself and his 13 seasons of semi-professional football. As the whistle blew and the referee’s hands went up, it became clear | Reggie Davis had made history. He was now the sole record-holder with 122 career touchdowns.

 

There was no need to boast on the night of July 29 when the Madison Wolves receiver and Madison police officer hauled in two touchdowns in a 42-34 win over the Waukesha Raiders. The legacy Davis had built was a product of the heart he put into the game since he was a youngster.

Davis experienced unrest earlier in life than most. For many years of his childhood living on Madison’s east side, he witnessed his father using and selling drugs while his mother worked multiple jobs to help support Davis and his brother, Chris. His father’s involvement with drugs led to jail time but he began selling again upon his release. A drug deal gone wrong resulted in a strike to the back of the head, leaving him paralyzed on his entire right side. He’s been in a nursing home for the last 11 years.

Davis yearned for structure and consistency, something he found early on when he began playing football in middle school. He started as a cornerback and playing solely on the defensive side of the ball. But by the time he got to high school, he realized he was made to be a wide receiver.

“I noticed how big my hands were,” Davis recalled. “I had these big hands and then I was starting to realize how well I could catch the football.”

As a senior, Davis was named to the All-Big 8 Conference list, but he wasn’t done there.

He continued his education at the University of Wisconsin | Platteville, where he would be named to the All-Star Game roster his senior year and graduate with a bachelor’s degree in communications. Davis translated that degree into a radio broadcasting job as a disc jockey at WKPO | FM in Janesville.

Davis would pursue his football career in the semi-pros with various stints in La Crosse, Racine, and Milwaukee, all while driving back and forth from Janesville and Madison. He made his arrival back to the state’s capital permanent in 2004 when he moved in with his now-wife Andrea. He’d begin his semi-pro career the following year with the Madison Seminoles before the team eventually became known as the Madison Mustangs. At 28 years old in 2008, Davis had what he calls his greatest season ever: 32 receptions, 756 yards and 17 touchdowns. That despite playing in only 11 games as a part-time player.

2009 was perhaps the most physically-demanding year of his career. Davis played for the CIFL’s Madison Wolfpack, scoring 16 touchdowns in 13 games before also playing for the Mustangs in the same season. Davis would log 13 touchdowns in 10 games.

2009 was also a mentally challenging year for Davis, maintaining his relationship with Andrea while trying to join the Madison Police Department. A year later, he would accomplish that goal where he’s been protecting Madison’s west side ever since.

Davis found balance between the chaotic schedule of an officer and football player, which produced stability and further success.

In his seven seasons with the Mustangs, Davis would help generate five league championships, be named an All-American in 2009 and win three offensive MVP awards.

Michael Gilbertson (85), Ryan Aschaker (41), and Reggie Davis (81) on the sidelines late during an Ironman Football League game in 2010
Michael Gilbertson (85), Ryan Aschaker (41), and Reggie Davis (81) on the sidelines late during an Ironman Football League game in 2010

 

As he inched closer to the semi-pro record he would set in 2016, Davis learned what would become a very important term: anticipation.

“That’s what makes a quarterback good or bad,” Davis said via text message. “That’s why Aaron Rodgers and Peyton Manning are and were great because they threw the ball before [the] receiver made their moves.”

That anticipation guided him throughout his 13 seasons of semi-professional football, earning him all-star accolades in four different leagues (North American Football League, Ironman Football League, MidStates Football League, and Gridiron Football League).

As he reflected on his record-setting career on the football field, Davis realized the structure he craved is what created the opportunity to protect and serve.

“I got my job as a police officer because I played for the Madison Mustangs. When I got hired, they knew who I was because of the Madison Mustangs.”

However, the 2016 regular season is over for the Madison Wolves and they’ll begin the playoffs Saturday night against the Midway Marauders at Ahuska Park in Monona. In what could be Davis’ final game, the idea of retirement isn’t one he’s afraid to think about.

Is there another season in Davis’ future?

“I would say most likely not,” Davis stated confidently. “But it’s a playoff [game] and right now is time to just let it all loose and play every game like it’s my last.”