Tim Thomas's recent, very public White House snub is not just tiresome or sanctimonious or overwrought (though it is). It underscored a distressing trend in this country: people have lost the ability to distinguish between speaking truth to power and just being a jerk.
Thomas, the star goaltender for the Boston Bruins, was invited to the White House for the customary presidential congratulations for winning the Stanley Cup last year. This is an apolitical event, one that is extended to Super Bowl and World Series winners as well. It's meant as nothing more than as a gift to the athletes, since the president—no matter who is in the Oval Office—probably has better things to do with his time than congratulate athletes, especially when the team is not from the commander-in-chief's home town.
Going to the White House is a special event for any American. It is a building that belongs to the people, after all, a building that represents our democracy. The occupant of the building is there temporarily. The symbolism and sheer beauty of the White House is permanent.
But Thomas decided he just couldn't stomach going to the White House, and made sure people knew about it. He released a statement detailing his objections:
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
The statement has all the characteristics of angry, random rants on the Internet. There are the oddly (and grammatically incorrectly) capitalized words, and the all-caps reference to himself as an "individual." Did Thomas imagine the rest of us thought he was speaking for some bigger group—Bostonians, hockey players, well-paid athletes as a whole? Does he imagine that his experience having pucks fly at him at dangerous speeds qualifies him to weigh in on the U.S. Constitution? And as for the property of the people—or "Property of the People," as Thomas describes it—he might want to consider the fact that someone who gets paid pots of money to play games isn't quite the most sympathetic spokesperson for lower taxes or the sanctity of private property.
And Thomas's statement indicates that he imagined going to the White House was some big favor or concession to President Obama or anyone else in elected office. It's not. Thomas is a great goalie, and I imagine he gets lots of attention when he's out in public, but he shouldn't assume that makes him the bigger attraction, especially when the president—any president—is in the room. Obama didn't ask Thomas to make a campaign commercial for him, or even to teach civics to school children (which is probably a good thing). Thomas was offered a rare chance to see the White House and meet the president. It's just rude not to go. Thomas doesn't need to remind us that he is a free citizen—or, "Free Citizen," as he ostentatiously puts it. No one was forcing him to go to the White House. And if he really didn't think he could have managed to keep it together during a White House visit, he could have just not gone, and not given an explanation. If he was invited to a wedding where he thought the couple was making a big mistake, would he put out a statement to that effect as well? Most of us would just send our regrets and leave it at that.
But Thomas had to make it about him, to put his own celebrity above both the president and basic good manners. That's particularly unfortunate, since hockey tends to have fewer badly-behaving players than other professional sports. Perhaps it's because hockey, while surely having its stars, cannot be played well without extraordinary team effort. What a shame that Thomas, whose star status in hockey is well-deserved, wouldn't be part of the team.