North of the 400

North of Toronto, South of a championship

Tim Thomas’ politics are a load of puck

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We’re living in strange times. The 24 hour news cycle has been shortened to a half-hour wheel, the Internet demands 140 characters content now, now, now and there’s always, always a news hole to fill.

It means that even the most mundane becomes newsworthy.

Take the flap in Montreal, where Canadiens head coach Randy Cunneyworth takes flak for not speaking one language in a city that speaks two. Does it really matter? The team speaks English, the league conducts business in English but a wing of the local media and a large segment of the city’s population doesn’t. Never mind that the coach doesn’t actually talk to fans and that Cunneyworth could always bring a translator to media scrums. The Montreal media pounded that story and soon, it was drawing international attention.

And even now, weeks later, it’s still in the news cycles, thanks to some comments by Jaroslav Spacek. In Quebec, hockey has always had a strain of politics to it. And now, politics has met the puck head-on.

That’s why a White House visit by the Boston Bruins is both news-worthy and nothing at all. On Monday, the team visited President Obama, sans Tim Thomas, who backed out for political reasons. He expounded why on his Facebook page:

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.

I know you’re shocked: an athlete has conservative views? That’s never happened before.

One doubts that Thomas is politically savvy. He’s expressed support for Glenn Beck, donated to far-right causes and been called a Tea Party Patriot. That alone should be enough for his views to be considered ill-guided, if well-intentioned. The Tea Party is astroturf, a billionaire-funded movement to keep the rich from paying taxes while slashing away safety nets. It goes to the lowest common denominators, focusing on banal catchphrases that represent various levels of truth: Obamacare, teleprompter, death panel. Should we judge him on his political stances?

That’s a loaded question. He’s a goalie, geting paid vast sums of money for people to shoot frozen pieces of rubber at his body. Politics doesn’t really have anything to do with the puck.

But we live in highly politicized times. Luke Scott went from just another outfielder to national headlines after he smarted off about Obama’s birth certificate. He’s hardly the only far-right person in the history of baseball, but that’s not the point. What matters is the way the media reacted to him.

Another way to look at it is to look at the behavior of people like Josh Lueke, Donte Stallworth, Danny Heatley and Ben Roethlisberger, and how the public treats them. Is Thomas really that much worse?

Not seeing Obama wasn’t a problem, although his flimsy excuse – “This was not about politics” – is disingenuous. If he doesn’t want to go to the White House, that’s his business. If he allies himself with the party of tea,  expresses fandom for somebody who bashed Obama on a daily basis, or donates money to political causes, he’s opening the door. Everything he says now is political.

But that’s not the problem. The problem is the media sound chamber, echoing this story into somethingness. Columns that say he’s “not a patriot” are banal. Wishy-washy columns saying he’s showing bad manners (and don’t really get the free speech thing) aren’t adding anything to the conversation. And doesn’t the Boston Globe’s editorial board have better things to write about?

The thing is, maybe not. Sports media can be vacuous sometimes; just read any column saying Jack Morris belongs in the hall of fame. It draws hits, feeds on itself and repeats. Like politics, it’s fun to argue about if you’re not taking yourself too seriously. And like politics, it’s all too easy to start taking it too seriously, too.


Written by M.

January 24, 2012 at 11:54 pm

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