- Parent Category: Sports & Entertainment
- Category: Sports
- Created on Tuesday, 24 January 2012 13:14
- Last Updated on Monday, 24 September 2012 17:27
- Published on Tuesday, 24 January 2012 13:14
- Written by A C Powell
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Of the many long-standing traditions in American professional sports, few compare to the “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity to meet the President of the United States. In fact, such an honor is only conferred upon league champions. On official invitation to the White House becomes a privilege given to athletes that so many other deserving Americans will never receive. As world hockey champions, each member of the Boston Bruins team received such an invitation to visit the White House and spend a few moments with the Leader of the Free World. Every member of the Boston Bruins championship team attended, expect for one, goalie and MVP, Tim Thomas. On his Facebook® page, Tim Thomas offered this explanation to his decision to snub the White House invite:
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.
Putting his personal political beliefs aside for the moment, Tim Thomas made a pretty poor choice in staying home while his teammates, his coaches, the team’s front office, and the mayor of Boston, Thomas Menino, were honored at the White House. First of all, Tim Thomas may not ever receive such an invitation again. Second, his personal statement reflects badly upon the entire National Hockey League (NHL). Keep in mind, that according to his contract, the Boston Bruins could sanction Thomas for refusing to attend the White House ceremony on the grounds of missing a team event. Fortunately for Thomas, the team president, Can Neely, said that will not happen. For a league struggling to maintain its following in a marketplace dominated by football, basketball and motorsports, the NHL itself may take an unforeseen PR hit in the wake of the Thomas’ no-show at the White House. Oh, by the by, Tim Thomas just happens to be the only American on the Bruins’ roster, which makes his actions all the more puzzling.
So, how have the other professional sports leagues treated such personal dissent and apparent disrespect for our national institutions? In 1967, the WBA stripped Muhammad Ali (then Cassius Clay) of his heavy weight title for opposing the Vietnam War and refusing to enlist in the United States Army. Ali was even imprisoned one month later for draft evasion. In 1968, Tommie Smith and John Carlos were expelled from the Olympic Games by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for their infamous protest in Mexico City. In fact, the American president of the IOC, Avery Brundage, threatened to expel the entire U.S. Track & Field team if it failed to comply with the expulsions. In 1996, the NBA issued an indefinite suspension upon one Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf (formerly Chris Jackson) for his refusal to stand during the singing of the National Anthem. Commissioner David Stern cited his decision to suspend Abdul-Rauf as a matter of respect.
In his January 24th blog article, Stephen Catanese contends that Tim Thomas should be accorded the same respect as Jackie Robinson, Tommie Smith, John Carlos and Muhammad Ali. SB Nation Regional Editor, Gethin Coolbaugh, also supports Thomas’ actions. Let us be honest. Tim Thomas lives in a very different time and has not faced even a similar social climate that makes the actions of Jackie Robinson, Tommie Smith, John Carlos and Muhammad Ali so significant. However we choose to judge or analyze his political opinions, Tim Thomas is absolutely entitled to express them, but his refusal to attend a ceremony at the White House simply does not reflect the same courage displayed by the other athletes to whom Mr. Catanese compares him. Born in 1974, the United States of America that produced Tim Thomas sits light-years away from the social and political landscape that existed when Jackie Robinson joined the Dodgers in 1947. Jackie Robinson did not cross the “color line” into the MLB and endure constant racial epithets and death threats just to make an “individual” political statement or even simply to play professional baseball. He was already a professional baseball player and star in the segregated Negro Leagues. Jackie Robinson’s political opinion was not display but rather his conviction that the discriminatory social practices of this country, Jim Crow Segregation, born from an evil institution, American chattel slavery, had to come to an end. Robinson, through his performance on the field coupled with his statesmanship off the field, proved to America that the widely held assumptions about the physical, mental and social inferiority of African Americans were overwhelmingly inaccurate.
Every American citizen should hold some sort of “individual” opinion about the direction of our country. We are, after all, the “Sovereign People”; notwithstanding, the economic and political state of our country has remained relatively unchanged since 2008, when behemoth investment banks began failing and received bailouts from the U.S. government. So, it becomes interesting then that this same Tim Thomas elected to represent the U.S. in the 2010 Olympic Games as a member of the United States national hockey team but declined an invitation to the White House in 2011.
Furthermore, Jackie Robinson, Tommie Smith, John Carlos and Muhammad Ali also suffered great personal sacrifice for their actions. Tim Thomas did not. In fact, his fate was certain, as he had conferred with his team president, Cam Neely, well in advance of his no-show at the White House. Again, Neely has already declared that Tim Thomas will not face any sanctions for an action that would be held as utter disrespect for American institutions by any other American professional sports league; therefore, how then We the People view what Tim Thomas did as courageous. He risked absolutely nothing … . He will not receive death threats like Robinson, Smith, Carlos, Ali or even Abdul-Rauf. He will not be fined or barred from his profession. His jersey will not be burned in effigy in the manner we saw in the aftermath of LeBron James leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Miami Heat or Bret Favre, the legendary Packers QB, joining the Minnesota Vikings. At 37, many of us will even have trouble rationalizing Thomas’s decision on the basis of immaturity. Moreover, we may not even be able to excuse Catanese or Coolbaugh in their respective defenses of Thomas on the basis of their on inexperience or immaturity.
Tim Thomas should not rise to the level of a “household name” simply because he declined an invitation to the White House. Although he may in his mind believe himself to fighting the “good fight”, he really has not taken a position on how we can take corrective action to heal our nation. For example, in his own words, his “individual” statement speaks to both parties and all three branches of government, unlike Jackie Robinson who we can safely say saw discrimination as a cancer deteriorating the social health and fabric of the country. Muhammad Ali protested a war in which thousands of Americans lives were sacrificed. Tommie Smith and John Carlos showed solidarity with the opposition to the same social conditions Jackie Robinson stood against. The only discussion we need have surrounding Tim Thomas and his refusal to join his team at the White House is how professional sports leagues deal with athletes in situations which their actions display apparent disrespect for the United States of America. It seems that the precedent has already been set. Will the NHL follow suit or make a statement of its own? Stay tuned.
Amir Clayton Powell is an author, advocate, entrepreneur, father, husband, servant of God, and warrior. By the by, he also happens to be the Publisher of The Old School Journal™ as well as the Chairman / CEO of ConnectionArtist Holdings LLC. Find A C on Twitter: @AClaytonPowell.
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