The internet thrashed Tim Thomas Monday due to Thomas' decision to decline to attend the Barack Obama-hosted White House ceremony honoring the Boston Bruins' 2011 Stanley Cup victory.
Thomas released the following statement outlining his reasons:
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
The main idea behind the thrashing is that Thomas was wrong-headed in skipping a widely-celebrated honor, and thereby disrespecting the office of President. Or in putting himself, as an "INDIVIDUAL," above the team.
Political discourse is, of course, never acceptable in the realm of sports ... unless you really, really want a new building and need someone else to pay for it.
But there are those who fly in the face of what is and is not acceptable.
For some, sports does not trump their sense of right and wrong.The cohesiveness of a "team" of millionaires brought together in pursuit of personal fortune and trophies isn't everything.
For some athletes, sport isn't always just a game. It can often be a means for change. Sports fans have bore witness to moments that deeply affected American history. Things that went far beyond a box score, a "historic" total in a statistical category or the cap hit from a contract. Moments that rudely interrupted the standard course of events.
- Jackie Robinson made his fight against segregation very visible when he broke Major League Baseball's color barrier. It was real, it was political, and he did it through sports.
- Americans Tommie Smith and John Carlos (and even the lesser-known Australian Peter Norman) did a similar service when they raised black-gloved fists atop the medal-winners podium at the 1968 Summer Olympics.
- Muhammad Ali went to jail in opposition of a war he didn't support. Because of boxing, his tour of duty would've been entirely symbolic. If not for boxing, no one would've cared. And through boxing, he helped spark debate. All he had to do was not show up.
Hated by some, beloved by others. These actions forced difficult conversations in American households, and made people think about the world around them. About what was going on away from the field of play.
Now, the rules apparently change once you retire. Once the audience ceases to care about your goals, completion percentage, or VORP, you're free to air all sorts of opinions. Just so long as sports fans can turn on ESPN and turn off the outside world.
This list of ex-professional athletes who entered the political sphere is long: Bill Bradley, Steve Largent, Jack Kemp, Lynn Swann, Jesse "The Body" Ventura (sort of), all of the guys on this list.
These former athletes have strong political convictions that they somehow managed to come to over the course of their lives, but weren't free or willing to share while professionally playing a game, at the height of their prominence.
Sports are serious, but they're not. It's all about approaching what's on the field as though it were life or death and not caring about anything going on off it. Unless what's off of it pays. Dollar, dollar bill, ya'll. Can't alienate a portion of the fanbase, right? The marketing department says keep your opinions to yourself.
Thomas did otherwise. In doing so, he found the perfect vehicle to share his own personal reservations about the direction of the United States and its government.
Dislike Thomas' politics if you want, slice and dice away at his reasoning if you like. But don't attack a man for making a very bold statement about what he believes in.
In the tightly-packaged world of sports, Thomas' stand is a refreshing change from the banal, Say Cheese! tedium the sporting world attempts to feed us on a day-to-day basis.