WASHINGTON, D.C. – Perhaps a quick Tim Thomas anecdote will shed a little light on the goaltender’s politically-charged decision to skip Monday’s team visit at the White House with the Stanley Cup.
CSNNE was doing a piece weeks ago on Andrew Ference’s efforts to recycle and encourage his B’s teammates to live environmentally-conscious lifestyles in their day-to-day existences as hockey players.
Several of Ference’s teammates, like Tyler Seguin and Zdeno Chara for instance, smiled and spoke about the nuanced ways the forward-thinking defenseman had affected them in a positive way. Seguin said he now shops for all his groceries at Whole Foods for the environmentally-agreeable organic foods recommended by Ference, and Chara mentioned taking his bicycle everywhere rather than driving.
But Tim Thomas politely declined when asked his opinions about Ference’s efforts, and admitted “we’ve got pretty opposite viewpoints on that kind of stuff.”
Thomas went on to say – with the wonderful usage of paraphrasing in hindsight – that he didn’t believe in the scientific theories powering the greenhouse effect and global warming. Instead Thomas felt like the efforts behind both notions were being pushed by those interested in growing the current green industry that’s turned into a cash cow in the United States over the last decade.
That’s pretty radical, right?
But it’s not all that distant from something you might hear tossed around on Fox News during any random weeknight broadcast where the restless right wing talking heads rule the roost. That memory immediately came to mind when it was first noticed that Thomas was the only current Bruins player missing from attendance at the White House. Mark Recchi, Shane Hnidy and Tomas Kaberle aren’t with the team anymore, and they still made the trek to the nation’s capital for the high honor.
It wasn’t all that jaw-dropping when Thomas opted out of the White House visit and the photo op with President Barack Obama. Thomas has always seemed to lean very far to the right perhaps reaching all the way over to radical tea party range with his personal politics, and there’s no doubting it played into his decision. Perhaps he’s so far over that he’s passed right on by the edge of the "right" and into a whole different category where things start getting a little goofy.
Thomas’ world beliefs are pretty far off-center in most cases, but he genuinely stands behind them. There is something to be admired about all of that.
The 37-year-old goaltender released a statement distancing himself from either political party and simply stated he believes the current US government is broken.
“I believe the Federal government has grown out of control, threatening the Rights, Liberties, and Property of the People,” said Thomas in a statement. “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.”
The funny thing is that the Hollywood-actress thin statement brought very little to the table beyond tea party rhetoric. Thomas had a golden opportunity to look Obama dead in the eye and engage him in some lively conversation about his beliefs. That is the true democratic way: expressing beliefs, exchanging ideas and engaging in healthy debate over whatever is ailing this wonderful country of ours.
Instead Thomas – an American hero, an Olympian and the epitome of the American success story while building up from meager beginnings in Flint, Michigan – remained behind at a hotel in Washington, D.C. crafting a Facebook message while his teammates, coaches, managers and team owner answered questions about his absence.
Bruins President Cam Neely respected that his goaltender’s personal beliefs kept him away from the pomp and circumstance with the Commander in Chief, but his public “disappointment” spoke volumes about the organization’s feelings on a day intended to be a breezy, feel-good moment. Peter Chiarelli tried multiple times to convince Thomas to change his mind and do what was best for the team and the B’s organization.
But Thomas made a pretty symbolic change at the beginning of last season when he drained the Black and Gold colors from his goaltending pads and goalie mask after a summer of trade rumors. Thomas removed the Bruins logo from his mask and instead replaced it with an image of the lucky coin he wears around his neck.
The message was simple: From then on, Thomas was playing for himself first and the team second. He's obviously captured a Stanley Cup with that mentality, but it seemed to again be the case on Monday at the White House.
“As an organization we were honored by President Obama’s invitation to the White House. It was a great day and a perfect way to cap our team’s achievement from last season,” said Neely in a statement. “It was a day that none of us will soon forget. We are disappointed that Tim chose not to join us, and his views certainly do not reflect those of the Jacobs family or the Bruins organization.”
Thomas’ liberty-given rights, and his courage for that matter, to stand out as the only player opting out of the ceremony were never in question. Any athletic champion can decline a Presidential invitation if they choose to. Everyone remembers that Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein was conspicuously missing from both White House visits in 2004 and 2007 when Republican President George W. Bush was in office.
There was an opportunity for Thomas to make a statement about the current plight of government in the country he loves, and he seized it like a 100-mph heat-seeking puck headed straight at him.
There’s little doubt Thomas’ world view has been shaped strongly by his upbringing in hardscrabble Flint, Michigan. So he took his shot and stirred up national debate in the process. On some level it probably accomplished every goal he set out for when listing Glenn Beck as the person he’d most like to have dinner with if given the choice.
But there was a Chara-sized downside to Thomas’ actions that speak to the biggest critique of the Conn Smythe Trophy winner and Vezina Trophy winner as an overall hockey teammate.
He’s often looked at as a “Lone Wolf” that doesn’t have very much in common with his teammates. Thomas often goes his own way throughout the season, but that’s not unusual for a goaltender. It’s also not to indict him as a divisive influence or a problem because he’s neither of those things.
But Thomas clearly went his own way with the White House event, and his actions largely overshadowed the moment for everyone else in the Bruins organization, whether Thomas fans like it or not.
The question was never whether Thomas HAD the right to skip the White House visit, but SHOULD he simply have stifled his personal interests for the betterment of a team celebrating their win one last time. Many will applaud the B’s goaltender for damning the torpedoes and simply doing what he felt was right in his world view. That is the kind of stand-alone bravery that can foster change in times when it’s needed.
But here’s one suggestion: why not announce Thomas’ intentions prior to the visit in order to defuse the situation and take the heat out of it on Monday afternoon. Thomas is wonderful at stopping pucks in tense situations and he’s one of the most humble athletes you’ll ever come across.
But he’s not a brilliant PR strategist and there seems to have been no notion of getting out ahead of the train wreck that steamed into the East Wing of the White House Monday afternoon. The day should have been about Obama mentioning the “Little Ball of Hate” to Brad Marchand’s red-faced embarrassment. Or perhaps it should have been about Obama mistakenly referencing the baptism of Dennis Seidenberg’s “son” in the Cup when it was actually his two daughters baptized in the Stanley Cup on a boat off the coast of Atlantic City this summer.
Everybody makes mistakes, right?
But instead the world’s eyes, ears and mouths were dishing with frothy fervor about Thomas thumbing his nose at the president’s invite.
The team’s actual White House honoring turned into nothing more than a minor sidelight rather than the marquee top-billing it truly deserved. For that Thomas should perhaps be a little remorseful even if his government protest was well within his rights as a red-blooded, radical free-thinking Son of Freedom.