Tuesday January 24th, 2012

Tim Thomas's decision to not attend the White House ceremony honoring his team violated a principle. (Graig Abel/NHLI via Getty Images)

By Stu Hackel

By now you probably know that the Boston Bruins visited the White House on Monday, as the champions of all major sports do, and that their star goalie elected not to attend. Tim Thomas stated his reasons on his Facebook page and he's been hailed by some as a hero for standing on principle. But, in a very important way, he was wrong -- and hockey fans who applaud him for his principles are wrong to support him.

On his Facebook page, Thomas wrote on Monday evening, "I believe the Federal government has grown out of control, threatening the Rights, Liberties, and Property of the People.

"This is being done at the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial level. This is in direct opposition to the Constitution and the Founding Fathers vision for the Federal government.

"Because I believe this, today I exercised my right as a Free Citizen, and did not visit the White House. This was not about politics or party, as in my opinion both parties are responsible for the situation we are in as a country. This was about a choice I had to make as an INDIVIDUAL.

"This is the only public statement I will be making on this topic. TT"

Thomas was wrong not because he holds those particular views on the government. He is certainly entitled to them. That is his legal right -- one of the things that is truly great about this country. Not every nation is so fortunate. But Thomas went wrong when he decided to use this particular time and place to exercise his right.

Let's look at what this event was really all about and whether it was the correct venue for him to air his views. It was a celebration of what the Bruins as a team accomplished last season. These visits to the White House are not political in nature, not in the slightest. They are this nation's way of honoring and publicly congratulating the champions of a major sport. The Bruins may ride the Duckboats all over the city of Boston to acclaim from its citizens, but this occasion is for the entire nation to recognize their championship and pay tribute to them. The B's can't go everywhere, so they go to the White House.

Tim Thomas may think he's protesting what he sees as some sort of government wrongdoing. But -- whether he realizes it or not -- he's really being disrespectful to the people of the United States. That's who he snubbed here.

His team, the Boston Bruins, are what this event was all about. They are the object of the celebration -- not the government, not the president, not even the Constitution. This was all about the Boston Bruins being acknowledged as the best team in hockey.

And if there's one thing that makes a hockey team great, it's unity, that none of the individuals put themselves ahead of the team. This is one the most fundamental principles in the sport. In fact, putting yourself ahead of the team is one of the worst things a hockey player can do. It violates that fundamental principle.

And that's exactly what Tim Thomas -- who wants to paint himself as a man of principle -- did. He put himself above his team.

There is a time and place for people in hockey to express themselves politically as individuals. They can do it in the voting booth, they can donate to political causes they support, they can do it almost any time or any way they wish -- except when the time in question is for the team. Tim Thomas decided to exploit a non-political event to expose his personal political views. To exploit this highly visible group function in order to make a statement about one's individual beliefs is sharply out of tune with everything this club has supposedly been about and what that celebration is intended to be.

It was selfish -- that's the only principle here.

Joe McDonald of ESPN Boston understands that. He wrote late Monday: "In earlier posts on his Facebook page, Thomas writes about the Bruins' recent shootout victory in Philadelphia on Sunday, calling it 'a big TEAM' win, and added his congrats to the New England Patriots on their 'big TEAM' win in the AFC Championship Game. That sentiment was missing in Thomas's decision not to go to the White House."

"Shabby. Immature. Unprofessional. Self-centered. Bush league. Need I go on? All that and more applies to what Thomas did," Kevin Paul Dupont wrote in The Boston Globe. "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."

Joe Haggerty of CSNE, whose Bruins Insider post on the incident largely plumbs Thomas's political views and how they shaped his decision, recognized the goalie's me-first outlook is nothing new when he wrote, "Thomas made a pretty symbolic change at the beginning of last season when he drained the Black and Gold colors from his goaltending pads and goalie mask after a summer of trade rumors. Thomas removed the Bruins logo from his mask and instead replaced it with an image of the lucky coin he wears around his neck. The message was simple: From then on, Thomas was playing for himself first and the team second."

And, most certainly, the Bruins understood this, too. Thomas reportedly made his decision not to attend months ago and GM Peter Chiarelli tried to talk him out of it. "I can require someone to attend a team event. If they don't, I can suspend him," Chiarelli said (quoted in The Boston Globe). "I'm not suspending Tim. Whatever his position is, it isn't reflective of the Boston Bruins nor my own. But I'm not suspending him."

Not long after Thomas posted his Facebook remarks, Bruins President Cam Neely issued a statement of his own: "As an organization we were honored by President Obama's invitation to the White House. It was a great day and a perfect way to cap our team's achievement from last season. It was a day that none of us will soon forget. We are disappointed that Tim chose not to join us, and his views certainly do not reflect those of the Jacobs family or the Bruins organization. This will be the last public comment from the Bruins organization on this subject."

Clearly, the team wasn't happy. In fact, they were obviously embarrassed, and probably angry.

I've come to learn that former Red Sox GM Theo Epstein (whose political views are apparently diametrically opposed to Thomas' in many ways) similarly boycotted his World Series team's trips to the White House during the previous administration because he didn't agree with its policies. Baseball may lack hockey's unmatched notion of teamwork but, even as individualistic as that sport's culture can be, it was similarly wrong for Epstein to place himself above his team and not allow the nation to honor his work with that ballclub.

A segment of fans and media observers, who likely agree with Tim Thomas's politics or don't really understand the notion of principle, have now hailed him as some sort of righteous figure. He's not. There's nothing heroic in what he did. He trampled on the only principle that really matters here, the one that got him invited to the White House in the first place. He misguidedly and unprofessionally turned his back on the group that propelled him into public prominence and the sport that has made him wealthy. Where's the principle in that?

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