Thomas on a slippery slope

Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas looks at his mask during a time out against the Devils at the...

Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas looks at his mask during a time out against the Devils at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., Jan. 4, 2012. (RAY STUBBLEBINE/Reuters)

PAUL FRIESEN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:57 AM ET

WINNIPEG - Picture, if you will, Winnipeg Blue Bombers veteran Doug Brown refusing to stand on the sidelines for the Canadian national anthem because he disagreed with the Canadian government’s position on something.

Would you have thought less of Brown?

This is basically the dilemma in Boston, where Stanley Cup hero Tim Thomas this week snubbed a team visit to the White House.

To see some of the reaction, you’d think Thomas had burned the American flag while chanting anti-U.S. slogans through a megaphone in front of Paul Revere’s statue.

How dare he mix sports and politics, the vitriol goes.

It’s as if we can’t stand the thought of actually thinking. You know, about something other than who should be in goal or on the power play.

I get that we immerse ourselves in sports to forget about crime, national deficits, bad roads and all the rest of it.

But to throw imaginary eggs at a player who jolts us out of that cocoon and into real life is misguided.

Thomas has an opinion about the direction his country is going, and it didn’t jive with a glad-handing, smile-for-the-cameras trip to President Obama’s Washington, D.C., pad.

The reaction from the Boston media has been swift and mostly harsh, going so far as to suggest Thomas had no business representing his country in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.

“Someone so disgusted with our government ought to turn in the sweater and the medal,” Kevin Paul Dupont wrote in the Boston Globe. “It must be a horrible burden, if not a pox, to have them in his house.”

Generally, the anti-Thomas thinking goes like this: respect the office of the president, if not the policies emanating from it.

Of course, you could debate how much respect the office deserves, given the things that have gone on in it over the years. War plans, media misinformation campaigns and presidential infidelity, including the questionable use of cigars, come quickly to mind.

But I digress.

It’s certainly not the first time a high-profile athlete has taken a stand, although it’s unusual to see someone mix politics and pucks.

I can’t think of another instance, actually, give or take a Sean Avery stand on gay marriage, which wasn’t really political.

Outside of hockey, the examples are many and varied.

One of the most notable individual stands in sports history might be the one taken by Muhammad Ali in 1967, when his refusal to join the U.S. army during the Vietnam War cost him his world heavyweight boxing title and millions of dollars in potential income.

Ali was banned from boxing for three years before the U.S. Supreme Court reversed his conviction in 1971.

A year after Ali was stripped of his belt, American sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos stirred up all kinds of controversy with their “black power” salute on the medal podium at the Olympic Games in Mexico City.

Closer to home, and more on the scale of Thomas’s move, was Major Leaguer Carlos Delgado’s refusal to stand at attention with his Blue Jays teammates for the playing of God Bless America during seventh-inning stretches in 1994.

Delgado’s stance was anti-war driven.

In 1996, the NBA’s Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf refused to stand for national anthems because American policy conflicted with his Islamic beliefs.

He was suspended for a game, before agreeing to a compromise: he’d bow his head and recite his own prayers during the playing of the Star Spangled Banner.

For Thomas, it was all about big government and threats to individual freedoms.

That very freedom allows him to take a stand like this.

It also allows people to vilify him, I suppose.

Seems to me, every now and then, a little wake-up call in the insulated, fantasy-world that is professional sports isn’t a bad thing.


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