Tim Thomas separated himself from his Bruins’ teammates yesterday afternoon when he refused to join them at the White House, a day meant to celebrate their 2011 Stanley Cup championship.
The two-time Vezina Trophy winner later in the day issued a statement, released by NHL.com and on Thomas’s Facebook page just after 6 p.m., noting his disillusionment with the United States government and offering that as his reason not to stand with his team.
“I believe the federal government has grown out of control,’’ he stated, “threatening the rights, liberties, and property of the people.’’
We must all celebrate that Thomas, born in Flint, Mich., nearly 38 years ago, has the right to say all of that and more, and we’ve grown accustomed to hearing near-identical dogma from the right wing/conservative/Tea Party end of our political spectrum for the last 2-3 years. He is a free man, living in a free country, and he can sing that blatherall from his hotel room, his crease, and the corner of Causeway and Staniford if he so chooses.
As a country, we’re not yet so deep in the handbasket that any of us has been denied that right. Thankfully.
But 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.
Thomas needed to be there in solidarity, and celebration, with his team. It was the same government yesterday, and will be today, that protected his country, his security, his family, and his right to make $5 million a year, all last season. In his absence, he stole his teammates’ spotlight. Win as a team. Lose as a team. And when asked to stand up and take a bow, then stand up there and suffer if need be, even if you don’t like the setting, the host, or any of the political trappings and tenets that come with it.
Team guys don’t opt out of team meetings or celebrations. Tyler Seguin goofed up earlier this season, missed a team breakfast and X-and-O session in Winnipeg, and found himself sitting in the press box that night. The importance of being on time, being present, was made clear to the 19-year-old winger. There’s no way for coach Claude Julien or GM Peter Chiarelli to do it, but their 37-year-old goalie is in need of the same kind of reminder.
Not a lot has changed in the US over the last two years, although it appears the economic picture is brightening at least a little bit, despite those in charge of our various governmental nuthouses. Unemployment has eased some and the Dow Jones industrial average has improved considerably. Politically, our nation is a mess, but the material Property of the People at least seems to be getting better. Not every house in the Lower 48 is up for short sale.
If Thomas is feeling the way he is today, it could not have happened overnight. He must have felt much the same just shy of 24 months ago when he sounded so proud to wear that Team USA sweater at the 2010 Olympics, and so proudly dipped his head to accept that silver medal. Or was he doing all of that under governmental duress, the pain of knowing our leaders were acting, as he wrote yesterday, “in direct opposition of the Constitution and the Founding Fathers’ vision of the Federal government.’’
Someone so disgusted with our government ought to turn in the sweater and the medal. It must be a horrible burden, if not a pox, to have them in his house.
Thomas didn’t need to issue a written statement yesterday, not when he could have made one by showing up at the White House and quietly picking his moment to utter a few simple words of disappointment to President Obama.
How easy, how far more courageous and honorable, it would have been to say, “Hi, I’m Tim Thomas, and I appreciate the fact my team was invited here today. I don’t like what’s going on in this country. I’m not the least bit impressed with your leadership. But I am proud of what we did, I’m proud to be an American, proud to be a Boston Bruin, and I’d like to see everyone in the government do a better job of adhering to the Constitution. Oh, and I’ve got a question for you about power plays . . . ’’
There isn’t a lot of that kind of honesty or directness in our country anymore. Rather than walk up to people in charge, most of whom don’t make themselves available anyway, we settle for silly ways to convey our point. We e-mail. We tweet. We drop a dime to a local newspaper reporter. We talk to the fifth in command, who we hope has the brass to talk to the fourth in command, who . . . well, it just seems we rarely get the chance to say what we really want to say, and say it directly to someone who counts.
Tim Thomas yesterday had a chance to tell the leader of the free world what he thinks it means to be an American today. Not just any American, mind you, but an Olympian, a multimillionaire, a hero in the city where he works, and a member of a championship team that has been a source of joy (and sorrow, too) to millions of Bostonians for nearly a century.
Instead, Thomas took his pads and blocker to another end of town and issued his statement. He could have talked to the president. Instead, he mailed one in from the pizza stand. I think he missed his chance. I think he missed the point of the day. I think he mistreated teammates.
And if I’m right, I think in the days ahead he’ll hear a voice of America representative of a people, many who are equally fed up with government today, who believe he simply should have showed up for his team, respectfully said what he had to say, and gone back to living a pretty good life. In America.
Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.