Much has already been written about Boston Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas and his decision to not accompany the rest of the 2011 Stanley Cup-winning team on their White House visit yesterday, the majority of it not very complimentary to Thomas. The most common reaction seems to be that, even if Thomas is not a Democrat or doesn’t support U.S. President Obama, he should have still accompanied his teammates because (1) it’s the “team” thing to do and (2) he should respect the Office of the President, even if he doesn’t respect the current holder of that Office. See here, here, and here for examples of this type of reaction.
However, what struck me in reading commentary on Thomas’ decision was the number of people who noted that Thomas’ decision was “courageous” or “took guts”. Greg Wyshynski reacted to Thomas’ decision in this post on his Puck Daddy blog on Yahoo! Sports:
“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.”
Even some of those who disagreed with his decision noted that it took guts to make it.
I just don’t see it. While I may not go so far as to label it cowardly, it seems to me to be a carefully calculated decision on Thomas’ part to make a political statement at a time when it will have the maximum impact. I think it’s significant that there was no prior inkling of this decision. I think it’s significant that Thomas did not single out Obama or the Democratic Party in his stated justification for his decision. I think he wanted to play the role of the American Patriot and he wanted to play that role to the hilt, and on the largest possible stage. He knew full well that his decision (and the rationale he gave for it) would not have had the impact it had if he had announced it weeks before. He knew that he would be criticized as partisan if his rationale mentioned Obama or the Democrats by name. What he did, in effect, was deliver his manifesto with the same impact as it would have had if he had delivered it from the White House itself, without having to face the consequences. And what he did, in effect, was criticize President Obama and his government while insulating himself from charges of partisan sour grapes.
I think that, whatever else we learned about Tim Thomas from all this, we learned that he does not lack brains. Or ego.
What do you think? Comments, as always, are welcome.