“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.” – Tim Thomas, via Facebook
There has been a lot of criticism thrown at Tim Thomas for his decision not to attend the White House ceremony. Like Thomas, who exercised his rights as an American citizen to not attend the event, those who criticize Thomas also have the right to have their voices heard. I have no issue with anyone voicing their opinion on that matter; however, many of those sharing those opinions somehow believe their voice is above reproach, and that is not the case.
However, that does not mean the arguments do not have holes in them. Here are the most common Tim Thomas arguments:
It was selfish: Thomas’ protest was not selfish at all. He took the opportunity that was presented to him to get out his beliefs about the American government. It is true that over the past two decades, the government has tried, sometimes successfully and sometimes not, to take away or curb civil liberties, to take land, and take too much control of our lives. That is a undeniable fact – the Patriot Act, the mandated wearing of bike helmets, seat belts, banning smoking in privately-owned bars and restaurants, and the attempts to take more control over information (via the Internet, in libraries, etc) are all examples of this. By speaking out, Thomas brings these issues to the forefront, as for whatever reason, a lot of these issues get ignored by the mainstream media. The fact is, Americans should be aware of these things (whether they agree with them or not) and Thomas’ actions will hopefully bring some of these issues to light.
He should have been with his teammates: There are countless events during the year in which the “team” participates that are not attended by all players. In fact, you would be hard-pressed to find a non-hockey team event that is attended by everyone. GM Peter Chiarelli said he knew for three months that Thomas would not attend and it did not bother him in the least. As far as it hurting the team, the players quoted in Wednesday’s Boston Herald do not seem too bothered by Thomas not being there:
“I still enjoyed the day,” Milan Lucic told Stephen Harris of the Herald. “I know the guys who were there ha d a lot of fun. I personally will remember it for the rest of my life.”
Added Steven Kampfer: “We all had a great time going there and seeing the White House. For me it was a dream come true. … to get to go to the White House and shake the president’s hand was awesome.”
Doesn’t sound like his teammates are terrible shaken by Thomas not being there, and his absence had zero affect on their enjoyment of the day. In the end, that is the effect on the team.
It was the wrong time for a political statement: Really? When would the right time be? The middle of the summer? Just before the Stanley Cup final? This is the most foolish of the arguments. There would never be a better time to stage this type of protest than skipping a trip to the White House. The purpose of a protest is to get your thoughts and beliefs about a subject in the open, and Thomas certainly did that. There was not a better time to stage this type of protest – oftentimes, the right time is also the time that draws the most criticism because it is the most difficult time.
He hates America or he is a bad American: Again, just utter foolishness. This country was built on the foundation of people challenging the government. It is not only our right to criticize our government, it is our responsibility. Being an American is not easy; it requires work, dedication and the willingness to stick your neck out for your beliefs. To say someone is a bad American because he/she chooses to protest the government is, for lack of a better word, stupid. There is nothing more American that protest – especially through civil disobedience. He broke no law, hurt no one, and got his point across.
He disrespected the office of the President: Again, if any president is offended by this, he/she should find a new line of work. It is part of the job to be criticized. And, again, part of an American’s responsibility is to challenge the government when it is felt the government is not “of the people, by the people and for the people.”
He doesn’t have the right: Almost left this one out because … well it is obvious why – of course he has the right. People love to blab about freedom of speech, but as soon as someone uses it, they jump all over the person for doing it. Got to love society sometimes!
In the end, people can criticize all they want. The fact remains what Tim Thomas did earned my admiration. He did not allow himself to be used as a pawn for political gain, as these events are nothing more than a glorified campaign event. He stood by his beliefs and got his message out there.
Most importantly, he committed the most American act one can do: he exercised his right to do as he chooses. That’s freedom in a nutshell.
Steve Kendall has covered hockey at all levels since 1992. His work has appeared in various publications, including The Hockey Writers, the Boston Herald, New England Hockey Journal, and the Worcester Telegram & Gazette. You can find him on Facebook or follow him on Twitter: @skendallhockey