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Tim Thomas: personal values matter most, but did he trump the team?

If you might by chance be interested in an All-Star-related column, here's something I worked on a while here

With the many pieces out there on the game itself, you may have missed my piece on Phaneuf, his leadership and one of the legendary Leafs, a true leader.  Click here

A couple of oldies but hopefully still goodies...

Goalie Eddie Chadwick was the last true Leaf ironman

How Kessel reminded me in his early days here (and still does, in some ways...) of another high-flying Leaf


Hey, this is a hockey site, more specifically a Maple Leaf rest stop.  I like that people can come and visit, chat, and share their views if so inclined.

I think those who drop by periodically know I don’t intentionally try to incite negativity around the sport or the Leafs.  If that makes this site a bit too much like pablum for some, I get that.  But I guess at this point—not only in my life but as a overall life observer and someone who loves hockey while has investing a lot of emotion in the Leafs over five decades—I prefer thoughtful, reflective and measured conversation versus hype, arguments and button-pushing.  I love a good discussion as much as the next person and can get animated just like anyone else, but everyone has a right to their view, eh?

That all said, with the Leafs off the ice for a week, I figured it is as good a time as any to ask a question that goes well beyond the Leaf talk we usually engage in.  The “issue” I wanted to touch on has to do with Tim Thomas, and his stand (a very public one) about not attending with his teammates when the Bruins were invited to the White House.

I want to be clear about one thing:  I’m not really looking for a debate on Thomas’ political views.  (For what little it’s worth, I’ve probably voted for every Canadian political party possible at some point in my life, but I long, long ago gave up on “believing” in any politician or political party.)  I know that Thomas has been vilified by many for supposedly being stupid, narrow, selfish—and much worse. 

My position is: I basically don’t have one.   I will only say that I tend to nod quietly and applaud when people who genuinely feel passionate about something stand up for their values in a positive and constructive fashion.  Holding a “minority” opinion or value doesn’t make a person “wrong”, clearly, any more than holding a “majority” opinion or value makes someone “right”.

(Quick aside:  I’ve long written elsewhere about the dichotomy—a double-standard of sorts, really— that many athletes face.  When they say nothing, they are labeled as dull, boring and full of nothing but empty clich├ęs.  If they say something outside the accepted “box”, they tend to get jumped on by the same media people that call them bland.  It’s often a no-win situation….)

Politics aside, my question is:  regardless of what you feel about Thomas and his apparent political views and whether you support him or not, do you think his decision not to attend the White House ceremony will negatively impact his team’s chemistry the rest of this season and beyond?

The Bruins lost their first game after the kerfuffle (with Rask in goal) and they gave up an un-Bruin-like 5 goals.  I’m not suggesting there was a co-relation between the Thomas media frenzy (that yes, he created himself) and the Bruin letdown in their last game before the break.  But it was interesting to note.

Let’s be clear.  Thomas was up front.  He could have begged off and pretended to be sick, for example, and no one would have said a word.  But he had long ago, it sounds like, chosen to make a very public statement.

He’s not the first person to skip or “boycott” a White House invitation.  But he did it in an era when the media (in all of its incarnations) is so widespread that it obviously was going to be pretty big "news" (well, at least on a slow news days...).

It was clear that the Bruin management group was not pleased, though they did their best to “defend” Thomas’ decision publicly, if you can call it that.  Players also were not overly impressed, if you read between the lines of the public comments that were made.

I think we all realize that we tend to admire, like, look up to, whatever we want to call it…people we agree with.  When we disagree with a person or something they say, do or write catches us by surprises and disappoints us, if we’re honest, it can change our opinion of them.  And I wonder if that is fair.

Heck, I think about that sometimes with this site.  I post pretty much every day.  Chances are I am going to write something, at some point, that will bother or offend someone, or pen something that others will vehemently disagree with.  Does that mean that, if people otherwise have enjoyed visiting here, they should stop reading my stuff?  You would hope not, but my guess is we have all done that sort of thing, feeling that we no longer like or respect someone—again, simply because we disagree on an issue that means something to us.

So yes, it s a tough thing.  It’s easy to criticize someone about their beliefs or actions when it’s an issue that doesn’t seem like a big deal to us.  And I go back to my initial question for you: will Thomas’ decision—and the way he handled it so publicly— harm the Bruins in the weeks and months ahead, in your opinion?  Will that always precious but ever-fragile team “chemistry”, that togetherness and harmony that binds teams and teammates—and makes them willing to battle with and for one another—somehow be affected and maybe even lost in Beantown?

It’s an interesting question.  Did the values of one guy kill, or just temporarily wound, what the Bruins had that was so key and helped make them the best team in the world a year ago—emphasis on the word team.


  1. Tim Thomas made a pretty strong statement with his actions, and many have criticized him for it. I will not join the ranks of those who disparage him. While I would not have chosen that course of action myself, and would consider it my duty to accept the honor, no matter how much I disagreed with the President, I understand it must have been a tough decision. If my son were to ask me what to do in a similar situation, I would advise him to show up, in his best suit, with his shoes polished, his hair cut, clean shaven and with a smile on his face. A personal letter after the event, with a word of thanks coming first, and disagreements second, would be the best course of action. Because I have great respect for Tim, and still admire him, I would only say that his actions were perhaps, ill advised. Sometimes, one's duty to one's team, trumps all other dilemmas.

  2. Very well said Elizabeth. I appreciate your taking the time to share your very thoughtful sentiments.

  3. I don't think it will impact the team much - they know him and his views, after all - but I do think he put his self-interest before that of his teammates. It wasn't a political event, it was a team one.

  4. I have no problem with what Tim Thomas did. I thought his statement was vague, but he’s Tim Thomas, not Ken Dryden. We’ve seen from the all star draft and other comments that his teammates are over it, so I don’t think it’ll affect chemistry. If it were our team, I would love to have everyone there, though not sure they invite Canadian teams? For better or worse, politics and pro sports are intertwined (national anthems, people booing national anthems for political reasons, military tributes, politicians making silly bets, political figures putting in appearances at events, etc.).

    But if it was known for months, the Bruins should’ve put out a release before hand. There wasn’t even a leak. The way it happened, there was more drama with a facebook statement, and all that followed. It was fodder for the blogs and social media, and was a molehill turned mountain.

    Thomas did what he believed to be the right thing, and I applaud, if not respect him for that. No one was harmed by his action/inaction. As much as I’d like to see the Bruins falter (just the Leafs-fan in me with a distaste for things Bruin/Habs/Rangers!), they’re too good of a hockey team and this too shall pass.


  5. Thanks Gerund O' and thanks as well Caedmon. Different perspectives and I respect your positions....

  6. I think Thomas was well within his rights to not go and and be a photo op for something he doesn't believe in. I respect him for having the balls to stand up for his beliefs. In an age where we can only do the politicaly correct action it took guts to do what he did.

    On another note the only reason this got any attention is because it was a Democratic President. When the general manager from the Boston Red Sox (Theo Epstein) did the same thing not once but twice to George Bush a Republican President, not a peep was heard. The double standard is astounding.

  7. Thanks Wilbur. You provided a different perspective. I was aware that some other people (I had read a bit about Epstein, for example) had quietly "skipped" similar opportunities. But you raise some issues not everyone might be aware of....