By mid-afternoon today I started peeking at the Twitter app on my smartphone to catch Tweets coming from Kevin Paul Dupont, Fluto Shinzawa, and the other members of the Boston press covering the ceremony in which the Stanley Cup champion Bruins were being honored at the White House, just as every championship team in every major American sport has been honored for as long as I can recall. Almost immediately, I saw Tweets that goalie Tim Thomas had declined the opportunity to participate in the White House ceremony with his teammates with suggestions that it was some sort of political statement by Thomas. As I started to write this post hours later, I found that both the Globe and the Herald have stories with both carrying Thomas’s official explanation with the Herald giving a bit more on Thomas’s political background.
When I first learned of this, I was really surprised by how angry this made me. I’ve spent some time contemplating why that was so. While Thomas had every right to make a political statement by his actions, he chose a time and a place that disrespected his teammates, the White House and the office of the presidency. As much as I disliked President Obama’s predecessor, had any member of the Red Sox or Patriots championship teams boycotted their White House ceremonies, I would have found that equally classless. But that wasn’t what angered me. What bothered me most was that at a time when our country is deeply divided on anything even remotely political, sports and entertainment provide a neutral refuge where we can all relax and enjoy each others company. Today Billy Cundiff was the topic of conversation, not Newt Gingrich or Mitt Romney or Barack Obama. And that respite from political combat is not only enjoyable, it also provides a valuable reminder that we’re all decent human beings despite our political disagreements. But when one of the stars injects politics into sports, it destroys that safe place where we can set aside our differences. And I resent Tim Thomas for doing that.
Every person has the right and some might say the obligation to participate in the political process. But when you’re in the entertainment business, whether you’re a rock star or a sport legend or a movie idol, I’ve always thought it ill-advised to be too vocal and too visible in your political activities. Our country is split politically at close to a 50-50 margin, so no matter what side you take, you’re going to alienate half of your fans. Economically, with all the entertainment options out there, why give folks a reason to change the channel? And from a societal cohesiveness point of view, why not let us enjoy your athletic accomplishments in a bubble free of politics? Well through his actions today, Tim Thomas certainly gave me a reason to change the channel. I enjoy watching the Bruins, but not that much and seeing Thomas in net will just be too annoying. But that won’t be the case for long since the future of the Bruins lies with Tuuka Rask.