The custom of championship sports teams visiting the White House and the ceremonial gift of a jersey to the president dates backs several presidencies and is generally considered above politics. But one member of the Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins decided he wasn’t going to be a prop in a photo-op for Barack Obama this year. Goalie Tim Thomas, whose heroics in the net made the difference for the Bruins in last spring’s National Hockey League playoffs, boycotted yesterday’s White House ceremony in which his team was honored.
Thomas absented himself from the celebration as a protest against the size of government and issued a tasteful if pointed statement explaining his actions were not about “politics or party.” For this, he is being roasted in the hometown press for behavior that Boston Globe columnist Kevin Paul Dupont called “Shabby. Immature. Unprofessional. Self-centered. Bush league.” But the Globe and other liberal outlets that claim Thomas politicized something that had nothing to do with partisan strife are wrong. The business of schlepping team members and officials and their trophy for photos with the president months after their triumph may be a harmless tradition, but as much as the president serves as head of state as well as head of our government, no one should feel obligated to play along with the charade. Thomas was fully within his rights and is no more at fault than any left-wing actors who denied themselves the pleasure of a visit with George W. Bush.
Thomas, the winner of the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player in the 2011 playoffs, was one of only three American citizens on the Bruins and is also an active member of the Republican Party. And because he sports the image of the Gasden flag (“Don’t Tread On Me”), the symbol of the Tea Party, on his goalie mask, it isn’t too hard to figure out where his political sympathies lie. But unlike some Tea Partiers who got in the face of politicians who voted for the bank bailouts, the stimulus or Obamacare, Thomas kept a respectful distance from the event.
Oddly enough, the Globe’s Dupont criticized Thomas as lacking the guts to criticize Obama to his face. Of course, creating an incident at the White House would have been in bad taste, embarrassed his teammates and spoiled their fun. Nor should, as Dupont claimed, his beliefs have obligated him to not represent his country at the Olympics, as Thomas has done. Reading this attack, one can’t help wondering whether he would not be praised in the Globe and elsewhere had his protest been against a Republican president.
One can argue Thomas could have just as easily played along with everyone else, shaken Obama’s hand and enjoyed his private tour of the executive residence. I believe he could have done so without compromising himself, but he thought differently, chose to make a statement about his principles and risked the opprobrium of the liberal press. For that he deserves our respect as a citizen and a man.