Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Tim Thomas – what were you thinking

Professional athletes fortunate to win a championship are offered the chance to visit The White House and enjoy the opportunity to meet the United Sates President. The Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins had that opportunity Monday, however American-born Tim Thomas embarrassed the National Hockey League, the Boston Bruins organization and his teammates Monday by first deciding to not attend the White House ceremony and by releasing a political manifesto right out of the American conservative playbook.

"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"

It’s Tim Thomas’ right to express his opinion. A professional athlete has the responsibility to represent the organization whose uniform he or she wears. Thomas is in the third year of a four year $20 million contract.

"Everybody has their own opinions and political beliefs and he chose not to join us," Bruins team president Cam Neely said. "We certainly would have liked to have him come and join us, but that's his choice. Obviously, it's not a choice that most of the guys, all the guys came except for Tim. That's his decision and his choice."

The Bruins and the NHL didn’t take the bait Thomas offered them. They choose to take the higher road, suggesting that Tim Thomas had the right to his ‘freedom of speech’. What Tim Thomas doesn’t understand, or appreciate, is that with freedom of speech comes a responsibility that once you say something controversial you can expect reaction, and not the type of reaction the Bruins offered.

“My advice to him is to stick to hockey,” said Phil Johnston, a top state Democrat who served under President Clinton. “I think Bruins players are taken seriously for their hockey, not for their politics.”

A native of Flint, Mich., Thomas wears a helmet adorned with the patriotic slogan “Don’t Tread on Me” and is a fan of conservative pundit Glenn Beck, formerly of Fox News.

The puck-stopper’s high-profile snub went viral as “Tim Thomas” became a trending topic on Twitter and Democrats hammered him, including lefty pundit Keith Olbermann, who fired off a tweet calling the goalie a “fool.”

Massachusetts Democratic Party spokesman Kevin Franck told the Boston Herald: “I think anyone who really cares about the lives, liberty and happiness of the American people wouldn’t miss an opportunity to shake the hand of the man who got bin Laden.”

Kevin Paul Dupont of the Boston Globe called the Bruins' goalie self-centred and immature:

"Yesterday was not about politics and government until Thomas made it about politics and government. The day, long set on the calendar, was a day when the Boston Bruins were asked to visit Pennsylvania Avenue to celebrate what they did as a team last season. It was their day in the national spotlight, until Thomas didn’t show, and then the focal point became, much the way it would be in a hockey game, on the guy who was no longer standing in goal.

Shabby. Immature. Unprofessional. Self-centered. Bush league. Need I go on? All that and more applies to what Thomas did, on a day when Cup teammates Mark Recchi (now retired), Shane Hnidy (a radio guy these days in Winnipeg), and Tomas Kaberle (a member of some Original Six team in Canada), all gladly joined the red-white-blue-black-and-gold hugfest at the White House."

Greg Wyshynski of the Yahoo blog Puck Daddy applauded Thomas for taking a stand.

"My take: Good on Thomas.

“Good on Thomas for using this moment — where a professional sports team participates in what's both an honor for its accomplishments and a political photo opportunity — to make a political statement of his own.

“It's the moment when Thomas will no doubt lose a lot of supporters, for sure, when they realize an athlete they celebrate has stark political differences than they have. He's not the first nor the last athlete to choose not to visit the White House.

“It's a moment in which a professional athlete uses his fame, his influence for something he believes in, and does something that won't be popular among fans or media."

The Washington Post’s Matt Brooks offered an interesting look at some “events” were athletes have used sports as a platform for their political opinions:

1967 - Muhammad Ali refuses enlistment in the United States Army after being drafted for the Vietnam War. Protesting: The Vietnam War.

1968 - American track and field stars Tommie Smith and John Carlos perform the ‘Black Power salute’ during the “Star-Spangled Banner” following their medal-winning sprints at the Mexico City Olympics. Protesting: The need for equality and black rights in the U.S.

1980 - The United States and 62 other countries boycott the 1980 Moscow Olympics. Protesting: the Soviet Union’s Christmas Day invasion of Afghanistan.

1996 - Denver Nuggets guard Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf refuses to stand for the National Anthem before NBA games. Protesting: U.S. foreign policy and ‘tyranny’ which conflicted with his new Islamic beliefs. (Abdul-Rauf was suspended by the NBA for one game for his action.)

2004 - Blue Jays outfielder Carlos Delgado refuses to stand for “God Bless America” during 7th inning stretch. Protesting: The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

2010 - The Phoenix Suns sport “Los Suns” jerseys on Cinco De Mayo for a playoff game against the San Antonio Spurs. Protesting: Arizona’s new immigration law targeting illegal immigrants.

There is a time and a place for protest. Tim Thomas’s political statement was where he stepped over the line. While you shouldn’t be forced to give up your freedom of speech when you’re a professional athlete you need to be sensitive as to how your words might impact others.

The National Hockey League fights for recognition every day. Later this week the NHL’s best will be in Ottawa for the league’s annual All-Star Weekend. Tim Thomas was part of another event that makes hockey great as a member of the 2010 United States Olympic Hockey team that won the silver medal at the Vancouver Olympics.

Tim Thomas is arguably the best at his practice between the pipes, but he was anything but hockey’s best when he released his “Tea Party” laced statement Monday night.

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom

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