I really wanted to stay out of this Tim Thomas-White House situation. I love covering hockey on the side, and I try not to mix it with my day job as a political journalist.
But in seeing some of the criticisms that have come out of Tim Thomas' decision to not attend the ceremony at the White House honoring his team's Stanley Cup win, I think there are a few misconceptions that need to be cleared. Factually unsupportable assertions are being made about the political situation in question.
1. One journalist on Twitter indicated racism had to play a part in Tim Thomas' decision, then came back and said he wasn't calling Thomas a racist, but the tea party. Now, unless I've missed something as big in the sports news cycle as an asteroid hitting earth would be in general, I've never heard of Tim Thomas making a racial statement. And, while some people like the following could exist, I don't know a single person who disagrees with Obama because they're racist (and I know a lot of people who disagree with him). Let's get this straight: disagreement with a president does NOT mean there is a racial motivation, whether you're a tea partier or a Stanley Cup-winning goalie. Making reckless insinuations like that -- when Tim Thomas, to my knowlege, has not said anything to justify the suspicion--is the kind of irresponsibility that creates racial tensions where there are none.
2. Another journalist, Dan Levy, who has a respected resume in sports journalism, argued the following:
Tim Thomas is a coward. It's one thing to disrespect the office of the president of the United States—I'll get to that in a second—but to justify that decision by blaming all of government and not having the guts to admit you aren't going because you fundamentally disagree with the politics of this particular administration is downright deceitful.
Thomas may very well believe that all of government is failing—a lot of people feel that way right now—but he's kidding himself (and anyone who reads his statement) if he believes for one second that he wouldn't have attended if the president rode in on an elephant and not a donkey.
Hypotheticals. Gotta love them. Maybe Tim Thomas wouldn't have won the Stanley Cup if he'd had orange juice for breakfast the morning of Game 7. Maybe he wouldn't have won the Stanley Cup if he didn't have that epically awesome playoff beard. Maybe he wouldn't have been a goalie if he could sing like Josh Groban. Maybe he would or wouldn't have attended the White House ceremony if the president had been Republican.
What Levy seems to take in and spit out with no digestion is that a lot of the people calling for fiscal responsibility say exactly what Thomas said: they're unhappy with both parties. If you actually take the time to follow the tea party, you'll find a lot of them are just as mad at Republicans as they are at Democrats. Thomas' statement is pretty common, but Levy comes across as being determined to see what he sees. I don't think I'm kidding myself for NOT reading into Thomas' statement what Levy apparently read into it--that it was a party decision.
Another point: I'm not really sure how you can call someone a coward who's already stood up to everyone--the Boston Bruins, the media, and a legion of fans--and made the decision to stay home. That takes a lot more bravery than going. You can argue whether it's misplaced bravery, but please don't argue that Thomas tried to hide behind being unhappy with both parties.
But even worse were some of the solutions Levy came up with:
If you want to protest in some way, wear a tie with Thomas Jefferson's face all over it. Put your comments on your Facebook page before you visit the White House and express your opinions as loudly as you want. Take the opportunity while on the White House grounds to share your beliefs with those in attendance, be it the president, a member of his staff or even the media in attendance.
So the way to not show disrespect is to post a public Facebook message bad-mouthing your host before you show up as his guest? The TJ tie, I could dig. But sharing your beliefs with the media in that environment is just as inappropriate. It's like when Hollywood devolves into politics in acceptance speeches. Be quiet. That's not why you're there. Private conversations with the president, perhaps. So I'll give Levy 2 out of the 4 suggestions. Honestly, though, looking at the suggestions makes me think Thomas might have done the best thing by staying home.
If you don't agree with someone, whatever. But that is never an excuse for reading into a statement something that the facts just aren't there to support.
I personally think it's nice to know some athletes are paying attention to the issues and what's going on. I don't know whether I agree with Thomas' decision to stay home. But I definitely don't agree with maligning him for imaginary motivations.