When the Bruins return to the Garden tomorrow, Tim Thomas, if he is in net, will no doubt encounter his fair share of cheers and jeers. Thomas’s absence last week from the White House ceremony honoring the team is a controversy that refuses to die.
“The Federal government has grown out of control,” wrote Thomas in an attempt to explain his absence. Thomas was careful to note that this was not about politics, as he believes that “both parties are responsible.” But the reaction to his statement has been decidedly partisan.
Indeed, liberals have reacted with fury, calling Thomas everything from “small minded” to “classless.” And certain sportswriters have even begun a whispering campaign with rumors of locker-room dissension and a possible trade.
Ironically, some have even questioned the patriotism of Thomas, who said that playing for the U.S. Olympic team was the proudest achievement of his career and who is the only member of his team to carry the flag — emblazoned on his goalie mask — onto the ice with him.
At least Thomas’s Canadian critics can be excused for not understanding the relationship between American citizens and our head of state. You see, in Canada, the head of state is the Queen of England — and when royalty requests your presence, you do not disappoint.
Here in America, the president — even this president — is not royalty. The president is a public servant. He works for us. And the failure to accept a White House invitation is neither insubordination nor a lack of patriotism.
Neither is it, as some commentators have implied, evidence of racism. The notion that racism drives any disagreement with President Barack Obama is absurd and deserves no response. But that does not lessen the accusation’s cruelty.
Liberal condemnation of Thomas is more than disproportionate — it is hypocritical. In 2007 then-Red Sox General Manager Theo Epstein failed to attend the White House ceremony honoring the World Series winners; in 2004 Theo attended the ceremony, but refused to pose with George W. Bush. (Talk about disrespectful!)
And when Ronald Reagan was president, even beloved Larry Bird skipped a White House ceremony honoring the Celtics.
But if there was outrage over these decisions, I must have blinked and missed it.
Thomas is, of course, not the first celebrity to share his political views. Bruce Springsteen, Barbra Streisand and the Dixie Chicks — to name just a few — all have a habit of using their celebrity status to force their opinions down our throats. But unlike Thomas, who made a personal decision that he then felt compelled to explain, Springsteen and company routinely proselytize to captive audiences who wish they would just “shut up and sing.”
Does this mean I agree with Thomas’ decision to skip the White House gathering? No. This White House ceremony was intended for the president to honor the team, not the other way around.
Had Thomas been the champion of an individual sport, like tennis or golf, I might feel differently. But as part of a team, Thomas should have attended.
Should he, as some have naïvely suggested, attended and then cornered the president to protest the growth of government? As someone who once worked at the White House, I can tell you that this idea is not only unrealistic, but would be regarded as incredibly rude.
Most fans are, by now, ready to put this controversy on ice and return to rooting for the Bruins and for Thomas. We know that tomorrow Thomas won’t lecture the fans about politics.
Unfortunately, when Springsteen plays the Garden in March, he is unlikely to be as restrained.