Boston goalie Tim Thomas' political decision to take a pass on the Bruins’ Stanley Cup ceremony at the White House has been all the talk in the NHL and the media since the news broke Monday afternoon. Social media buzzed with Thomas’s Facebook explanation that he’s mad as hell at everyone in politics and isn’t going to take it any more.
People as widely divergent as film maker Michael Moore and TV host Keith Olbermann weighed in. A controversial reaction came from TSN veteran host Dave Hodge who tweeted: “Don't know if it's fair to point this out, but Tim Thomas has three children named Kiley, Kelsey and Keegan.”
KKK, get it? By Thomas espousing a libertarian view, Hodge seemed to imply the goalie sympathizes with a racist organization. And he used the names of Thomas’s kids to make the point. The tweet quickly spread across social media. For his part, Hodge told us in an e-mail, “My words speak for themselves. The words of others do not speak for me. As you are aware, my tweets are almost always satirical, sometimes provocative and admittedly designed to elicit reaction. This tweet was no different.”
TSN had trepidations about Hodge using the names of Thomas’s children to connect him to a racist organization known for lynching and burning crosses. “Just to be clear, yesterday we corroborated Dave’s follow-up tweets that clarified his intention was not to offend, and be humorous,” TSN president Stewart Johnston told us in an e-mail. “While I believe 100 % in the sincerity of Dave’s intent, I also believe the tweet was in poor taste. We have discussed the matter at length with Dave. Beyond that, this is an internal matter and will be dealt with as such.”
Hodge has a reputation for being cutting edge. His legendary pencil-flipping indignation at the end of a segment on Hockey Night In Canada led to his departure -- and Ron Maclean’s arrival -- from the show in 1987. We often find Hodge’s tweets a voice of wit in a storm of pap. But on this one he should be glad he works for such an understanding network. Other organizations might not have been as understanding.
More Comment: Thomas was pilloried by other media sources, if not quite being equated as a racist. Here in Canada, Sportsnet’s Michael Grange wrote, “The Bruins shook hands with the Canucks, but Tim Thomas couldn't meet his president?” CBC’s Tim Wharnsby asked, “Just wondering if down the road Thomas still will believe standing up for his political convictions in this manner was worth it.”
“Shabby. Immature. Unprofessional. Self-centered. Bush league. Need I go on?” wrote Boston Globe hockey writer Kevin Paul Dupont. All that and more applies to what Thomas did, on a day when Cup teammates Mark Recchi (now retired), Shane Hnidy (a radio guy these days in Winnipeg), and Tomas Kaberle (a member of some Original Six team in Canada), all gladly joined the red-white-blue-black-and-gold hugfest at the White House.”
Agitprop artist Michael Moore weighed in. “Tim Thomas & I went to the same high school. I can tell u this: People in Flint LOVE Obama, desperately need Obama, & DETEST Thomas' actions”. Former ESPN host Keith Olbermann piped up, too. “What a fool this Tim Thomas is. When I was invited to the White House to meet a president, the thrill was BEING INVITED TO THE WHITE HOUSE”.
But others defended Thomas’s right to make a statement. Blogger Greg Wyshynski noted, “Again, I find what Thomas did to be bold. I don't see it as an act of cowardice, seeing all the relationships and good will he risked.” Wyshynski then added that the Bruins themselves were to blame for mismanaging the PR situation. He got agreement from Joe Haggerty of Pro Hockey Talk who added, “Thomas’s world beliefs are pretty far off-centre in most cases, but he genuinely stands behind them. There is something to be admired about all of that.”
Finally, political writer/ broadcaster Luke Russert (son of the late Tim Russert) reminded everyone that Michael Jordan skipped a White House ceremony in 1991 -- this time with a republican president George W.H. Bush. “Tim Thomas getting a lot of support for snubbing Obama at WH today, '91 Michael Jordan took heat for snubbing Bush” Of course, Jordan simply wanted a day off to golf.
The largely negative reception from many media to Thomas’ decision seems counterintuitive. On one hand members of the press moan about cookie-cutter athletes who dispense anodyne comments when approached. But when an athlete such as Thomas takes a provocative stance, there is almost universal condemnation from reporters and analysts for stepping out of the “team game”. Shouldn’t he be welcomed as a breath of fresh air?
Or maybe there are “approved” opinions as far as the media in concerned. For example, while Thomas’ libertarian take was jumped on immediately as “crackpot”, very few in the press have any problem with Boston player Andrew Ference’s proselytizing with his hero, climate prophet David Suzuki. And the furore over Thomas is far greater than when another Boston hero, Red Sox GM Theo Epstein, snubbed President George W. Bush twice when his team was honoured at the White House after World Series titles.
Criticism of a different opinion is the public’s right, but the media cannot get in the habit of choosing sides. As we like to say here at Usual Suspects, “Root for the story, not the player or team”.
NFL playoffs score big: Huge ratings for NFL Conference championships last Sunday. Here in Canada CTV did an average of 2.05 M for the Baltimore/New England game and 2.4 million for the later New York Giants/ San Francisco game. Down south, The Giants/49ers earned a 33.4 overnight rating on FOX Sunday, up 7 per cent from last year’s comparable game. The Ravens/Patriots drew a 29.1 overnight rating on CBS Sunday afternoon, down 3 per cent from last year’s comparable game.
Two interesting points here. In Canada, the two CFL Conference finals in November drew 1.8 M for and 1.2 M on TSN, undermining the CFL’s claim that it competes or surpasses NFL telecasts in Canada (thanks to reader Jeff H. for pointing that out). Second point: 96 per cent of people watching the NFL Conference Finals watched them live. Why is this important? Because it reinforces sports’ claim as the last vestige of appointment viewing in the world of PVRs and Blu-ray. As long as networks and cable/ satellite carriers can tie up live sports events they can preserve the traditional delivery models and keep people from cutting the cable.