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Tim Thomas Exercises Free-Speech Right, Declines White House Ceremony

The President honored the 2011 Stanley Cup Champion Bruins Monday at the White House. Citing political differences, Tim Thomas did not attend. (JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

President Barack Obama congratulated the Boston Bruins Monday for their 2011 Stanley Cup championship. Citing differences of opinion, Boston Globe hockey writer Fluto Shinzawa reported, Tim Thomas chose not to attend.

Good for Thomas.

Thomas Stays True to America and Self

Appearing at the White House, being photographed with the President and handing him an embossed Bruins jersey would make Thomas look aligned with the President. A fake alliance or not, Thomas wanted to avoid such an appearance because he sees his political relationship to the President differently. That shows both political conviction and a savvy understanding of the modern media landscape.

What would have been the alternatives? Had Thomas gone to the White House and then voiced his opposition to the President, he’d have been portrayed as hypocritical. “How can you shake hands with the President Monday and bash him Tuesday?” the media would ask. No answer Thomas could give would make him look good, so why bother giving the press the question at all? The issue still comes up by declining the invite, but at least the press can only crucify him for his opinions, not his actions.

A third alternative would have been to go, accept the President’s congratulations, then go home. Thomas would probably view that option as a wasted opportunity.

Athletes are often berated for bringing politics into sports – for expressing any personal opinions, really – but this is a natural intersection of sports and politics. Thomas saw a chance to exercise his constitutional right to free speech, and he took it. President Obama and every other politician champions this right in spirit, if not always in action (pepper spraying peaceful protesters, for example).

Additionally, even indirectly using the power of the White House to silence protest is coercion. The truest sign of a free kingdom is a person displaying that freedom even in the presence of the king. Obama is a U.S. citizen (despite whatever Donald Trump incoherently spouts), as is Thomas (one of only two on the Bruins). A president does not enjoy more freedom of speech than a hockey goalie, and Thomas shouldn’t feel intimidated just because a powerful man wants him to.

Some would argue politics shouldn’t factor into an honor for a sports accomplishment. Perhaps, but the trip to the White House is also a professional honor. By not going, Thomas essentially said his values matter more to him than his job. That’s a courageous act of self-validation.

Bruins Handling it Properly

General manager Peter Chiarelli has already said Thomas won’t be suspended for not attending. He added that “whatever his position is, it isn’t reflective of the Boston Bruins nor my own.”

That’s the correct thing to say, and the correct thing to do. Thomas has the constitutional right to speak his mind, but as an employee of the Boston Bruins, Thomas contractually must behave in a way keeping with the team’s public image. Thomas might have violated that image by skipping the trip to Washington, D.C., but instead of punishing Thomas – and possibly alienating more conservative Bruins fans – Chiarelli simply said Thomas doesn’t speak for the team. That keeps both sides happy and allows both to save face.

If only more teams could resolve issues like as maturely as the Bruins did.

Hockey’s Odd Place in America

Had this been a basketball or football team, where nearly everyone is American, perhaps this would be a bigger slap in the face. But can anyone really argue hockey is a quintessential American sport? Historically, most of the really great players in the league have come from elsewhere, usually Canada, Scandinavia or Russia. As a simple example, Thomas was only the second American player ever to win the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP.

Hockey is by far the least American of the Big 4. Hockey players boast their countries of origin in a way basketball and baseball players don’t. Seven Canadian teams play in the NHL, including one that just moved out of a U.S. city where no one cared. Each player’s 24 hours with the Stanley Cup takes the trophy all over the world. “O Canada” is sung almost as often in the TD Garden as “The Star Spangled Banner.”

If a hockey player doesn’t feel like going to the White House, the symbolism of the gesture pales in comparison to the reality of hockey’s place in the U.S.

Now, if Tom Brady skipped the White House…

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6 comments for “Tim Thomas Exercises Free-Speech Right, Declines White House Ceremony”

  1. I am not a fan of the Tea Party or Mr. Beck. I am a fan of people who can protest with words correctly. After many aggravating speeches to come out since 2009, I feel Mr. Thomas did a great job.If he would have gone haywire like Hank Jr. and his outrageous rant then maybe there should be some penalty. Hockey is a gentle mans sport after all. Great victory in 2011. Thank you Jeff Miller

    Posted by jeff miller | January 23, 2012, 7:16 pm
  2. Everybody’s entitled to their opinion, including Tim Thomas. Have to say though that I am disappointed. There is a scene in Band of Brothers where a deposed captain fails to salute another officer who outranks him, because he took his job. The officer stops him and says, “Captain, we salute the rank, not the man.” This is the president of the US, he should have gone.

    Posted by Curly | January 24, 2012, 6:31 am
  3. IF ITS NOT POLITICAL then its races. he talks about his free right but its not about partys then the only thing left is race…. i could be reaching but if its not 1 ten its the other. im a bruin fan and this is not good for him

    Posted by confused and hurt | January 24, 2012, 8:57 am
  4. […] ⋅ January 25, 2012 at 11:21pm ⋅ Post a comment Tweet This week, Tim Thomas made a choice. He chose not to join his teammates at a White House ceremony honoring the Boston Bruins for their […]

    Posted by Thomas’s White House Snub Brings Out the Cult of Media Hypocrisy | Sports of Boston | January 26, 2012, 10:21 am
  5. After reading numerous posts on the net and seeing so many negative comments, it is clear people have lost site of what’s at stake. Over the last 50 years (at first gradually) we have been subject to more and more ‘legislated’ laws which have reduced our freedoms.

    The roots of our freedoms (maxims in law – our inherent common (sense) laws) and how to preserve them (the court process) w/ education isn’t common knowledge and we are paying the price as the minds of the populace have been ‘programed’ for conformity. They “say” our freedoms our under attack (without evidence) by outside sources, but I see it more from within.

    TT said it plain and simple and so many are taking this out of context. We need people to open their minds up and realize that a revolution IS taking place and either enough people are going to stand up and reclaim our common law heritage or see it disappear for good and become enslaved by the corporate elite who are running the show behind the curtain (the bible states that money is the root of all evil ).

    Solution: Truly have governments of the people, by the people, for the people (not corporations – aka: persons, yes persons, look it up in any law dictionary) and create an interest free currency (sovereign dollar?) and stop using the elite’s currency (yes, it’s theirs).

    Remember your history people, and for once, let’s not make it repeat itself. This is critical with the technology that is now in place at this time in human history.

    “The people can always be brought to the bidding of their leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.” ~ Nazi Reich Marshall Hermann Goering, at the Nuremberg War Trials

    Good for you Tim for standing up and being true to yourself. More of a fan now than ever before. Your playing in a city with great history, hopefully the majority remembers that history and doesn’t conform – and supports you all the way.

    Posted by ShawnC from TO | January 26, 2012, 1:10 pm
  6. Kudos to Thomas for exercizing his right to free speech and voicing his disapproval of the ills of the current political situation.

    Unfortunately, very few other athletes (Ali, Jim Brown, Bill Russell are some notable exceptions) have taken similar stands, but those that have made their goals clear.

    I anxiously await Thomas’ next move, which should be suggesting the constructive, corrective remedies for the ills he vaguely identified. A duty, by the way, which is incumbent upon all of us as American citizens.

    It takes courage to point out things that are wrong, especially when the stakes are high; it takes even greater resolve to fix them.

    Posted by ChipFromCT | January 30, 2012, 6:49 pm

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