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BOSTON (CBS) – Readers might not be able to separate the politics involved with Tim Thomas’ statements from the simple act of stating any position, but I’m here to tell you that the more he moves his mouth – or at least his fingers across the keyboard to update his Facebook page – the more Thomas is hurting himself and the Boston Bruins.
As pro sports go, hockey more than any other puts a value in athletes that put their heads down and go about their business full bore with little thought or expression. Much of that ethic stems from the humble upbringing of so many players from blue-collar, sometimes-remote, parts of Canada and the United States, where the collective is emphasized over the individual. Over the years, it’s spread to players of all ages from all different parts of the globe through teammates, coaches and front-office personnel that preach putting team before self and avoiding controversy.
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That’s the reason you still have a decent amount of members of the hockey playing and talking fraternity that still snicker when Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference speaks out and gets involved in a non-hockey cause. It’s also the reason getting any hockey player’s on-the-record opinion on something as benign as a team’s new sweater design can be like trying to find out who Claude Julien’s starting goaltender is going to be prior to Boston’s warmup.
Now along comes Tim Thomas. Even before his controversial decision to sit out the 2012-13 NHL season, he skipped the Bruins’ visit to the White House because of an objection to government involvement in peoples’ lives, as he explained via Facebook. Since then he posted about standing with the Catholics during a nationwide debate over contraception requirements in the healthcare reform laws, and now he stands with a fast-food joint that’s openly against marriage equality.
Whether you agree or disagree with Thomas, you have to admit it’s rare for anyone that cashes a paycheck in hockey to make political stands. His White House snub stirred up some controversy and distractions in the Bruins’ dressing room for at least a week initially and then those issues resurfaced several more times after that prior to the Bruins’ demise.
General manager Peter Chiarelli is on record as saying he will consider trading Thomas to a team looking to get to the salary-cap floor (once that amount is established) so his team can be rid of the goaltender’s $5 million cap hit. The more Thomas posts on Facebook, you have to wonder how many teams will be willing to risk the trouble of adding Thomas to its ranks, even if it’s just a paper transaction. Without pigeonholing Thomas, there’s no telling if his next post will preach love of all beings large and small, or vilify a particular group of the human species.
There’s always the risk that Thomas shows up wanting to play, all the while suddenly upping the intensity of his political musings on Facebook or beyond. Even if he sticks to his guns and sits out, just having Thomas associated with your team as he continues to post positions that a team has to dissociate itself from could be an embarrassing situation that would inspire some teams to look for other means to make the cap floor. Don’t think for a minute that members of the Bruins’ front office aren’t gritting their teeth in between Thomas posts and rolling their eyes when something goes up.
Along the same line, Thomas has said he wants to play again after 2012-13. Through Chiarelli, Thomas mentioned a possible role on the 2014 U.S. Olympic team. Well if Thomas keeps this up, USA Hockey isn’t going to touch him and other NHL teams are going to look under every rock for a goaltender before giving Thomas a shot. It’ll be difficult for Thomas, pushing 40, to get another NHL job after a year off based on his age and inactivity alone. He probably won’t be cashing a check anywhere near $5 million again. And with every post, he’s pushing himself closer and closer to training-camp tryout status.
Considering the lack of popularity, and in some cases hateful nature, of Thomas’ positions, it’s somewhat admirable that he’s willing to express them. However, Thomas’ climbs up on his virtual soapbox fly in the face of his stated plan to again be an employed NHL player. And with every post he does even more damage to the Bruins’ chances for success than his prior posts and his decision to burden them with his $5 million cap hit without performing for them this season already hurt the franchise that made him a world-famous performer.