On Tim Thomas staying home

Posted: January 24, 2012 in Media, Politics, Sports
Tags: , , , , ,

“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”

This was the statement released on Facebook Monday by two-time Vezina winning, Conn Smythe winning, Stanley Cup winning Boston Bruins goaltender, Tim Thomas (To be referred to as TT30.) in response to his controversial decision to decline an invitation to the White House to meet with President Barack Obama in a celebration with his teammates of winning the 2010-11 Stanley Cup.

Full disclosure: I am not only progressive, but in Europe I’d be considered socialist. I voted for Obama, I volunteered for his campaign. I embrace the word Liberal and wear it as a badge of pride. I feel that the GOP in its current incarnation poses the greatest danger to the fabric of the country that we have seen in 50 years. I disagree with almost every one of TT30s points with a vehemence that is difficult to comprehend for many people.

That being said, I support TT30 100% and am glad he felt comfortable making what was, no doubt, a very difficult decision. There’s a lot involved with this; What Timmy said, what it might really mean, the very implications of refusing a White House invite — but I think most central and important here is what it says about us as Sports fans in the way we view it and how it affects what we think and say about Tim Thomas. I’ll break it down into a few sections.

Refusing a Presidential Invite: As a private citizen who was issued no command, was not required by the team, and was under no legal obligation to attend TT30 has every right to decline this invitation. To be upset by this idea is to admit that we’re only upset because he didn’t do what either A: We would have done or B: what we think he should have done. We are in absolutely no place to insist upon his actions any more than he is on ours. Idolizing the man, loving him as much as we can a sports star, does not mean that we should have any rational or logical expectation that we can influence his actions. We can disagree with him, but to lose respect or withdraw support is irrational. He exercised a right guaranteed to him and that is the definition of being a patriot.

Athletes as Role Models: We must keep in mind that we do not pay athletes to be role models. Only in a roundabout way to we as spectators even pay them. In a conversation with a twitter friend of mine from Gahden Gremlins (which you should immediately visit if you’re a New England Sports fan) I was reminded of an old Charles Barkley quote where he insisted he’s not a role model. And he’s right. Adoration does not a role model make. Professional athletes are thrust, by us fans, into a position they may or may not have asked for. Athletes crave success and competition — and of course victory, they may or may not crave adoration, celebrity and any of the other trappings that come from being a multimillion dollar professional athlete. But we as fans need to understand that we are putting them into the spotlight, and then we are judging them when they do not perform to our expectations. Again, this is irrational and illogical. The argument certainly exists that an athlete certainly must know that people will look up to them, and their performances and choices on and off their field of play will be judged. But can we really feel comfortable in our actions of thrusting the spotlight upon them, and then judging them when they don’t meet our expectations?

Athletes Politics And Party: TT30 is a person just like the rest of us. He is entitled to his opinion, perspectives, and his choices. When he says that this choice is not about party I’m forced to shake my head in a little disbelief. Regardless, I have no evidentiary reason to not believe exactly what TT30 says. I think that his choice is necessarily rooted, at least in part, to party. But I don’t actually know. The larger point here is that Tim Thomas is Tim Thomas. He is not what we want him to be. He is himself and we should all celebrate and embrace that. Every person is wont to have political beliefs, or at least particular opinions on the world around them that are either obliquely or blatantly political. Even people who hate politics will have beliefs rooted in a political perspective; it’s nature. TT30 should be encouraged and embraced, by all fans, to do what he feels to be right.

Athletes as Projections of Fans: I think this is the largest point at issue in this whole discussion. As fans we continually adopt the perspective that we are allowed to judge what is right and wrong for an athlete. We go far beyond simple disagreement with something an athlete does to go so far as to impart our judgment and change our fandom and supporting patterns based on something about their personal life. This is a projection of our own lives, our own perspectives and feelings, and even our own hopes and dreams on the athlete: this is not fair. Especially in the case of TT30, he broke no laws, merely exercised his right as a citizen. To look down upon an athlete for his political beliefs (or even his personal life in general) is exactly the same as looking down upon a politician for a lack of athleticism. That is not their role. It is not what they’re paid for. With visibility comes responsibility, there’s no doubt about that, but he’s an athlete. That’s it. You can’t pay Tim Thomas to stop pucks, and then join in the fervor and uproar when he makes a personal and private choice we don’t agree with. He is a professional athlete. He is human (even if his trophy case suggests otherwise.) It is unfathomable that we expect ourselves as sports fans to not only place the spotlight on them, demand their performance, but then also demand their perfection when their perfection is a standard we set for them. It’s fine to have expectations for them regarding their paid task, but when we get upset about their off-the-field behavior, we start to become hypocritical.

Tim Thomas Showboating: The Media makes this what it is. I’ve seen different takes, different perspectives/articles/tweets and whatever else — it’s all self-serving bullshit. I’ve read people assert Thomas is selfish, or Thomas is showboating, or Thomas was putting himself above his team. While I support the right of people to have their opinion, we must understand the basic fact that the only world in which Tim Thomas could be showboating or putting himself above the team is the one in which the media manufactures the controversy. It is necessarily true that Tim Thomas can’t be putting himself above his team if his quiet decision is not discussed by the media. It’s a bit of a catch-22 in a way; when TT30 makes a quiet decision to decline an invite to the White House, the only possible way it could be even remotely true that he’s putting himself above his team is by the media talking about it in the first place. Case in point is this article by Joe Haggerty of CSNNE. While Haggs points out that Thomas isn’t exactly closeted in his right-of-center politics, he completely ignores a golden rule of logical argument: correlation does not equal causation. At one point Haggs says: “It wasn’t all that jaw-dropping Thomas opted out of the White House visit and the photo op with President Barack Obama.” but if it’s not all that jaw-dropping, why do you have a whole column devoted to it? If it’s not jaw-dropping, why do you argue that makes him selfish and me-first? You can’t say it’s not really a big deal, when your entire premise is that it’s a big deal; that’s inconsistent. While I applaud Haggs for pointing out in several places that he supports TT30 for standing behind his beliefs I’m forced to point out that it’s hypocritical to at once suggest that standing behind his beliefs is to be admired while reprimanding him for doing so. Make no mistake, that’s what Haggs is doing. He also says that: “The message was simple: From then on, Thomas was playing for himself first and the team second. That seemed to again be the case on Monday at the White House.” While this may not necessarily be false, by making this statement Haggs is insisting that the only way Thomas could NOT be selfish, to NOT be me-first, is to go to the White House (i.e. Haggs projection of what’s right, what Haggs thinks is the proper choice.) The idea that TT30 refusing a White House invite overshadows everything else he’s done is laughable. But Haggs needs to create the problem so he’ll have something to talk about. This is indicative of the larger issue here. In order to have something to talk about, the media has to create something to talk about. Though to be clear I don’t blame the media for this. I’m traditionally very quick to call out what I feel to be an abdication of journalistic responsibilities, but I think in this specific instance we’re simply running into the consequences of the beast we, as a content-hungry public, create. I admittedly feed it not only by paying attention but by weighing in on it myself. It’s a self-fulfilling cycle; once we start it it never really stops.

I think if we step back and look at this we really see a few major themes: People project on sports stars, and feel insulted when an unrequited emotional bond of our own manufacture is altered. This is at its core media driven, they fan the flames in order to develop their own legitimacy and reaffirm their relevance — but we can never forget that it is our fault. We want the content, they need to drum up controversy in order to give themselves something to talk about it because we’re consistently in search of and hungry for that content. By nature I think sports fans are uncomfortable with the idea of athletes as people. We place standards on them, and expect them to live up to those standards, but when realizing that they’re people the same as we are we’re given a good dose of something uncomfortable. This is a primary issue with mediated content in general. The people we see on tv aren’t real people — they’re flesh and blood, but they’re performing for us. We can insist all we want that we understand they’re people and we get it, but our brains have a very hard time truly processing and understanding that what we see on tv is real; our unconscious simply processes what we’re seeing as facsimile of real life. This is part of why meeting celebrities can be such a rush. It’s not just that they’re famous, it’s that our only connection to them is mediated. It’s mediated and comes through our magical performance screen, and meeting them is about “Oh my goodness they’re REAL!” just as much as it’s about coming in contact with that kind of gross popularity. All of these things go hand in hand.

People are entitled to their opinions, and just as athletes are so too are those of us that write about them. It’s a tremendously inefficient and damaging cycle, but it is what we create. In the meantime I’ll continue watching my Bruins and loving every second of every game. I do not support the views of TT30, but I support his ability to express them. I don’t agree with his decision to refrain from attending the White House ceremony. I don’t agree with any of it — but that’s because I’m me and TT30 is TT30. I’ll judge a hockey player for his political views the minute I invite myself to be judged by a politician for my inability to skate. It’s just that simple.

Of course, that’s just how I see it. Maybe you’ve got it differently.

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