National Hockey League goaltenders have guts. They stand, defended only by a mask, pads, and a stick, as a hard rubber puck comes at them at speeds approaching 100 mph. On Jan. 23 Boston Bruins goalie Tim Thomas took a gutsy position and faced ferocious slapshots of a different kind.
The story began because Thomas, 37, led the Bruins to the Stanley Cup last year. He received the Conn Smythe Trophy-only the second American-born player to win the award-as most valuable player in the playoffs. The Obama administration invited Thomas and the whole team to come to the White House for photos and handshakes with the president on Jan. 23.
Thomas, one of only two Americans on the Bruins, said no. He posted on Facebook a statement that read, in part, "the Federal government has grown out of control, threatening the Rights, Liberties, and Property of the People. ... 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."
Press slapshots came immediately. A Boston Globe writer called him "Shabby. Immature. Unprofessional. Self-centered. Bush league." MSNBC's Keith Olbermann tweeted that Thomas is a "fool." A Los Angeles Times writer declared, "Tim Thomas is a coward." A Boston Herald columnist called him embarrassing, classless, and a spoiled brat.
Who is Tim Thomas? An ESPN writer noted that while most players shift around during the pre-game playing of "The Star-Spangled Banner," Thomas "never moves. He stands as still as the Statue of Liberty, with his focus directly on the American flag that hangs from the rafters in every NHL arena. There's no denying Thomas' patriotism. He represented Team USA as an Olympian and has called it one of his most memorable moments of his career."
But the writer then reversed course, criticizing Thomas for selfishness and arguing that his decision "could come back to kick him between his goalie pads." At WORLD, we applaud Thomas. At age 37, he's no longer a child thrilled by baubles. He evidently sees himself as citizen first, athlete second. He did not claim any special wisdom by virtue of his ability to stop pucks, but he'll be able to tell his three children and grandchildren that he did not salute madness.
After the Super Bowl "wardrobe malfunction" with Justin Timberlake and Janet Jackson eight years ago, the NFL started inviting AARP-eligible performers such as Paul McCartney and The Rolling Stones. The league cranked up the risk meter slightly last year with Usher and The Black-Eyed Peas and pushed deeper into the unpredictable with this year's pick of Madonna. Of course, the NFL had little choice in the matter. Counterprogramming from other networks trying to steal away viewers during halftime of the big game includes football played by lingerie-clad women and Animal Planet's alluring football played by puppies.