Leave it to the Boston Bruins' eclectic goaltender Tim Thomas to turn a routine meet-and-greet into a polarizing national incident.
On Monday, the Bruins were feted en masse at the White House by U.S. president Barack Obama for winning the 2011 Stanley Cup, which is standard fare in the 21st century, where politics and sports constantly overlap. They all showed up, all except for goaltender Tim Thomas, who happened to win the playoff MVP award and was the single biggest reason they defeated the Vancouver Canucks in seven games.
Thomas was a mysterious no-show and Twitter ran rampant all of Monday afternoon, speculating about why he gave it a pass. Politically, Thomas is known to lean toward the right and even finds some merits in the rants of commentator Glenn Beck. However, when Thomas finally explained his absence on his Facebook page, he took care not to make it a statement about Obama's presidency, but at his dissatisfaction with American politics on the whole.
Thomas wrote: "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."
Thomas concluded by saying "This is the only public statement I will be making on this topic."
If Obama had any issues with Thomas's absence, he didn't let on, making the usual quips that one would expect about Boston's sporting supremacy from a diehard Chicago fan.
"The Bruins, the Sox, the Celtics, now the Patriots. Enough already, Boston," Obama said. "What's going on, huh?"
Obama didn't mention Thomas's absence, but did refer to his two shutouts and the fact that he was just the second American to win the Conn Smythe after New York Rangers defenceman Brian Leetch in 1994.
However, he did note there was no better image of the Bruins' dominance than when Slovakia's Zdeno Chara, the team's 6-foot-9 defenceman, hoisted the Stanley Cup above his head in Vancouver in celebration last spring.
"Which is, I'm sure, the highest that the Stanley Cup had ever been," he said.
Obama drew laughter from the crowd when he cited the scrappy play of Bruins forward Brad Marchand, who emerged as a star with five goals in the last five games of the finals against Vancouver.
"The `Little Ball of Hate' shrugged off the rookie jitters," said Obama, adding "What's up with that nickname, man?"
Peter Chiarelli, the team's general manager, tried to convince Thomas to attend the ceremony, but did not succeed.
"We're like a family. We have our issues," Chiarelli told the Boston Globe when asked if Thomas's decision overshadowed the visit. "You deal with them, move on, and try and support everyone."
Thomas is one of only two American-born players on the Bruins' roster (the other is Steven Kampfer).
"I can require someone to attend a team event. If they don't, I can suspend him," added Chiarelli. "I'm not suspending Tim. Whatever his position is, it isn't reflective of the Boston Bruins nor my own. But I'm not suspending him."
Three members of last year's Bruins team who no longer play for Boston also attended the event, including Montreal Canadiens defenceman Tomas Kaberle, Mark Recchi, who retired after the Bruins' Stanley Cup win, and spare defenceman Shane Hnidy. The event took place in the East Room of the White House.
Thomas is not the first athlete to cause a stir when his team was honoured at the White House, according to the Associated Press. Following the Pittsburgh Steelers' Super Bowl victory over the Seattle Seahawks in 2006, linebacker Joey Porter announced that he had "something to tell" President George W. Bush, although the Steelers' visit to the White House went without incident. A year earlier, the Northwestern University women's lacrosse team sparked a controversy when several players chose to wear flip-flops to a White House ceremony honouring the year's NCAA championship teams. The team eventually auctioned off the offending footwear to raise money for a 10-year-old girl battling brain cancer.
Thomas will rejoin the rest of his teammates at the Verizon Center on Tuesday night, when the Bruins face the Washington Capitals, and then leave for Ottawa, where all-star festivities begin Thursday.