Over the years, many athletes have skipped their team’s championship White House celebration. Former Green Bay Packers tight end Mark Chmura skipped his team’s 1997 White House visit over what he perceived as a lack of morals from President Clinton, though his official reason was due to a golf tournament. Boston Red Sox GM Theo Epstein, a Democrat, was absent for both of his team’s visits to the Bush White House in 2004 and 2007. Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison declined trips to visit both President Bush and President Obama. Some players miss out on White House visits for other, more bizarre reasons as well.
Last Monday, I watched with great pride as the Boston Bruins visited the White House to celebrate their 2011 Stanley Cup victory. As is customary, President Obama made some remarks and received a Bruins jersey. As I watched the ceremony I couldn’t help but notice Bruins goalie Tim Thomas was not on stage. Former Bruins Tomas Kaberle and Shane Hnidy were present, but not the man who had shutouts in Game 7 of both the Eastern Conference and Stanley Cup finals. Later that evening, Thomas released a statement on his Facebook page on why he chose to skip the event. What followed was a firestorm of reactions, both positive and negative (and downright idiotic) toward the two-time Vezina Trophy winner.
As Thomas wrote on his Facebook page, his disagreement was not necessarily with President Obama, but rather what he perceived to be the massive growth of the federal government under both parties. Reading his rather vapid statement, it’s fair to assume Thomas is a faithful Tea Partier, which would put him in ripe position for media scrutiny. While my political beliefs don’t necessarily align with those of Tim Thomas, I really don’t have a problem with his decision to skip the event. As he says, it’s his “right as a Free Citizen”. What I do have a problem with is how Thomas has handled the decision.
With the exception of his short Facebook statement, Thomas has been virtually silent. If you’re going to make a bold decision to eschew meeting the President, than you better be ready to face the heat. Hiding behind team PR reps is a rather cowardly way of handling the situation. Thomas should have made himself available for questions, or at the very least made a statement acknowledging that he had no desire to cause a distraction for his teammates, coaches and the rest of the organization (without Thomas, the team looked pretty sloppy in a 5-3 loss to the Washington Capitals the following night). It also would have helped if Thomas had announced his intent to skip the event before it occurred, so as not to take the focus away from his team’s accomplishments.
Tim Thomas is one the great stories in the NHL. After graduating from the University of Vermont in 1997, Thomas played in Finland, Sweden, and many a city in the American and Canadian minor leagues, before finally joining the Bruins organization in 2002. Since that time he has made multiple All-Star Game appearances, won two Vezinas, the 2011 Conn Smythe Trophy and was able to represent the United States in the 2010 Winter Olympics. His journey to the top of the NHL mountain has been long and arduous, and his story should serve as a testament to the value of hard work and perseverance. While Bostonians will always be grateful to Thomas for helping bring the Cup back to Boston, he may have permanently damaged his standing amongst many other NHL fans. It would be a real shame if NHL fans remember Thomas more for his decision to snub President Obama than for all of his on-ice heroics.