In fall 2016, during a home football game between Wisconsin and Nebraska, two fans were photographed in costumes. One was wearing a prison jumpsuit, alternating between masks of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, with a noose tied loosely around his neck. The other wore a Donald Trump mask, holding the rope of the noose. The incident garnered national attention. The university’s immediate response—to ask the fans to remove the noose but allow them to remain at the game—was heavily criticized by professors, students, alumni, and community leaders. University and athletics department administrators argued the fans were protected under the First Amendment. The most vocal condemnation came from UW athletes, led by basketball senior Nigel Hayes. Chancellor Rebecca Blank apologized for how the university initially responded and revoked the season tickets of the fans involved. The university committed to providing better security at the stadium.
College athletes continue to push for change on and off campus. In 2016, basketball player Nigel Hayes went viral online when he posed with a sign that stated, “Broke College Athlete. Anything Helps.” During and after his time at UW–Madison, he continued to lobby for National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) athletes to be compensated for their labor. In 2018, basketball player Marsha Howard, a Black woman, remained seated during the national anthem in solidarity with NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick and other professional athletes protesting police brutality, drawing the ire of Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA). In 2020, Black athletes posed a list of demands including adding a black W crest to all uniforms to show support for Black students.