Thursday, January 26, 2012 • 10:04 AM Comments ()

In Defense of Tim Thomas

posted by Pete Redington

Unless you’ve managed to keep your Boston sports mania maintained solely on the Patriots’ place in the upcoming Super Bowl, you’ve probably heard about Bruins star goalie Tim Thomas electing not to join his team when they were honored for last season’s Stanley Cup Championship with a visit to the White House of President Barack Obama this past Monday.

Because of his actions, or his inactions, Thomas has come under a bit of scrutiny, from both fans and sports media personnel alike. (Though many have supported his in/actions, too.) A recent column by Kevin Paul Dupont has received an astounding 1161 reader comments, and sports talk radio has debated the issue furtively for days. (It’s a good thing the Super Bowl isn’t for two weeks, otherwise, Boston’s giant sports media infrastructure wouldn’t be big enough to handle the interest this week.)

Many have charged Thomas with letting his team down, and putting the spotlight on himself, when the event was one that did not celebrate individual effort or accomplishments (of which Thomas has earned several). This may or may not be true, but the Bruins organization hasn’t responded in this way.

“For several months, Bruins personnel ranging from owner Jeremy Jacobs to the rank-and-file players knew that Tim Thomas wasn’t planning to attend Monday’s ceremony at the White House,” reported Boston Globe Bruins beat writer Fluto Shinzawa. “None was surprised that Thomas … would be the lone dissident.”

Because of this insider knowledge, and because the Bruins still chose not to make the visit to the White House a mandatory team event, I’ll excuse Thomas of any possible teammate infractions.

Others have been quick to claim amnesty in the “sports and politics shouldn’t mix” and “athletes should just shut up and play” camps. But for me, these viewpoints have always sold short both athletes, and their sports.

For better or worse, sports are often political. It’s political when owners build publicly-funded stadiums with tax payers’ money. It’s political when a baseball fan is arrested at Yankee Stadium for attempting to use the restroom during the singing of “God Bless America.” And it was political when players from the Super Bowl Champion Green Bay Packers supported the labor protests last winter in Madison, Wisconsin.

But more than this, I like it when an athlete is more than (just) an athlete. I’m interested in my teams, and I’m interested in their players, and I’m interested in them beyond their stat sheets. Give me individuality. Give me personality. Give me human intrigue and drama. And wrap it all together in a cohesive team, which is even more impressive for its collection of dynamic individuals.

Athletes, sports media and fans are already subjected to far too many mundane, cliché-filled press conferences (a practice Coach Bill Belichick seems to mock after every Pats game), so it’s always refreshing when athletes reveal more of their authentic personality.

Don’t get me wrong. I would rather have had Thomas refusing to visit the White House for reasons more associated with the Occupy Movement than the Tea Party Movement. But as someone who years ago enjoyed indulging in the comments Rasheed Wallace made when his NBA Champion Detroit Pistons visited former President Bush (II), I have to appreciate Tim Thomas’ principled stance, too.

Here is the statement Thomas issued in his absence:

“I believe the Federal government has grown out of control, threatening the Rights, Liberties, and Property of the People. This is being done at the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial level. This is in direct opposition to the Constitution and the Founding Fathers vision for the Federal government. Because I believe this, today I exercised my right as a Free Citizen, and did not visit the White House. This was not about politics or party, as in my opinion both parties are responsible for the situation we are in as a country. This was about a choice I had to make as an INDIVIDUAL. This is the only public statement I will be making on this topic. TT”

Thomas does not strike me as the kind of athlete who craves the media spotlight (like, for example, Chad “Don’t Call Me Johnson” Ochocinco, or Curt Schilling), which further suggests that this was something he absolutely had to do, regardless of the fan/media reaction. (Thomas has yet to answer questions about his statement, and now heads to Ottawa for the NHL’s All-Star Weekend.) And that is something I can respect, and appreciate.

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