There was a notable absence last Monday at the White House, where the Boston Bruins were recognized as 2011 Stanley Cup Champions. Tim Thomas, the champions’ lone American and arguably the NHL’s best goalie, decided to skip the event. He later made the following statement via his Facebook page:
“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 is far from the first to use professional sports as a platform for political protest. In 1968, American track and field stars Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists in opposition to racial inequality in the United States. Since the United States’ boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics, we have seen athletes in a variety of sports refusing to stand during the singing of the National Anthem. More recently, Tim Tebow starred in a Superbowl ad with an anti-abortion message.
One of the most vocal political voices in sports has been Phoenix Suns point guard Steve Nash. In interviews during the 2003 All-Star Game, Nash wore a T-shirt that read, “No War. Shoot for Peace.” In 2010, he was a key proponent of the Suns wearing “Los Suns” jerseys for a playoff game in protest of the controversial Arizona Senate Bill 1070, which allows local police to check the legal status of anybody suspected of being an undocumented immigrant.
Sports and politics have been connected ever since Greek messenger Pheidippides ran to Athens to deliver the news of a Greek victory at the Battle of Marathon, leading to the famous commemorative race of that name. At Georgetown, the connection between the two realms is the subject of a class taught by professor Victor Cha, and it covers great political statements such as those made at the Olympics of Munich and Beijing and at the Rugby World Cup in South Africa.
In his statement, Thomas writes about exercising his “right as a free citizen.” Of course, all American citizens possess the freedom to speak out or to protest nonviolently against the government. But a visit to the White House to celebrate an athletic achievement is far from a political endorsement. The event is intended as a celebration of excellence in athletics, not a political tool. This isn’t the Boston Bruins endorsing Barack Obama for re-election, although I’m sure the majority of Boston already has, this is the president giving thanks to a team for providing something to the nation that he, and most others, cannot.
In hockey, there is a big difference between a fight, in which both players drop the gloves, and a sucker punch, in which one player surprises the other without allowing them to defend themselves. In refusing to appear at the White House, Thomas is not engaging in political debate, he is throwing a metaphorical sucker punch. He’s embarrassing Obama, his cabinet and — as the lone American on the team — his country as a whole. For an athlete who was finally given his chance to shine in this country at the ripe old age of 31, he is disrespecting the fans, the league and his team.
Tim Thomas is correct in thinking that he has the freedom to refuse this invitation. But like most of the media who have since been questioning him about the decision, I have the right to think he’s a self-involved prima donna for doing so. The loose, fun, smiling Thomas of the playoffs has given way to a bitter, cynical one, and I, for one, think some of his charm has been lost. Stick to hockey, Tim, and hopefully no season ticket-holding Bruins fans will decide to exercise their First Amendment right to peacefully protest and stay away from the TD Garden.
Arik Parnass is a freshman in the College. CANDID CANADIAN appears every Tuesday.