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When Worlds Collide: Politics and Sports

Tuesday, January 24, 2012, 23:09 EDT Leave a comment Go to comments

Presidential hockey puckThe practice of White House visits for champion sports teams isn’t a new one. One of the perks of winning, whether it’s on the collegiate level or in major professional sports, is that you get to be the guest of honor and listen to the President of the United States fawn all over you and your teammates. Heady stuff, for most athletes, but every so often there are exceptions.

I remember when Manny Ramirez twice declined to join his teammates at the White House to accept President Bush’s congratulations on their World Series victories of 2004 (when Ramirez was World Series MVP) and 2007. His reasons were rumored to be political, though Manny claimed a death in the family for at least one of them. Now 2011 Conn Smythe winner Tim Thomas has done the same thing but has openly admitted why. (The text at the link has changed since I first saw it; what I excerpt below was from prior to Thomas’ statement on Facebook yesterday evening.)

The Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins visited the White House today to be honored by President Barack Obama, but the team’s star goaltender declined to attend for poltical [sic] reasons.

I have mixed feelings about this. It is a great honor to be invited to the White House, regardless of who occupies it. The event is for the President to honor the team, not the other way around. But it is also a hallmark of our form of government that each individual has the right to express himself or herself. No one should be forced to make nice with someone whose actions conflict with his or her own beliefs.

When the athlete in question was Manny Ramirez, I didn’t even bother mentioning it over at my Red Sox blog. My recollection is that I was slightly ticked off but also realized that Ramirez, who was then a fairly new United States citizen, was making a silent protest that wasn’t hurting anyone. It was certainly less rude than most other liberal protests against Republican presidents.

Now the shoe is on the other foot, so to speak, and it’s a conservative who is giving a Democratic president the cold shoulder. Once again, I’m a little annoyed but also acknowledge Thomas’ right to take a stand in a non-confrontational manner. The reactions of others, however, seem to be much different from the reactions to Ramirez.

The Montreal Gazette calls Thomas’ action “rude,” which is ironic coming from the city where hockey fans regularly boo during the pre-game performance of “The Star Spangled Banner” when American teams are in town.

A contributor to SB Nation complains that Thomas “[created] a distraction,” even though the distraction has been largely caused by the media who have turned one man’s decision into national news.

But the most interesting reaction to me was a column in the Boston Globe by Kevin Paul Dupont, a long-time Boston sports writer who hyperventilates about Thomas in curious “love it or leave it” fashion.

If Thomas is feeling the way he is today, it could not have happened overnight. He must have felt much the same just shy of 24 months ago when he sounded so proud to wear that Team USA sweater at the 2010 Olympics, and so proudly dipped his head to accept that silver medal. Or was he doing all of that under governmental duress, the pain of knowing our leaders were acting, as he wrote yesterday, “in direct opposition of the Constitution and the Founding Fathers’ vision of the Federal government.”

Someone so disgusted with our government ought to turn in the sweater and the medal. It must be a horrible burden, if not a pox, to have them in his house.

I’m not sure why a presumably educated person would equate disagreement with elected officials with a lack of pride in one’s native land, nor why he would believe that someone unimpressed with the government’s leadership specifically should be precluded from representing the nation and its people generally. Dupont claims that it would have been more appropriate for Thomas to go to the White House and, when approached by the president, given Obama a piece of his mind. But that strikes me as crass, like accepting an invitation to dinner at a neighbor’s house and then cornering the host in the kitchen to complain about how he has ruined the neighborhood. Besides, given that Obama hasn’t been shy about denigrating and insulting conservatives publicly at every opportunity, addressing him directly seems like a futile exercise. Dupont has not replied to my inquiry from late this morning, nor has he provided links to his published criticisms, if any, of Ramirez’ two time snubbing of the Bush White House. I can’t say I’m surprised.

The issue here really isn’t Tim Thomas’ actions, which you may or may not like. It’s the selective indignation of people whose partisanship renders them incapable of consistency. Some of the same people feigning horror over Thomas’ solitary protest thought it was not only appropriate but admirable when a basketball team’s owner decided to use his entire team to stage a protest against a state law supported by a majority of its citizens. They didn’t bat an eye when a baseball player took a very public political stand (or lack thereof) by sitting out “God Bless America” during his ball games in protest of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Hell, it was barely newsworthy when, as I mentioned before, Ramirez snubbed Bush twice in three years. It’s OK for an athlete to protest as long as he’s on the correct side.

So the next time you hear or read a criticism of Tim Thomas, ask the complainer what they thought about those other protests. Then feel free to ignore the hypocrites.

Categories: politics, sports
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