Thursday, July 26, 2012

Off-the-Ice Alter-Egos

I normally wouldn't actually try to write something like this the way I did here, but it was helpful for me to express my surprisingly rational feelings about Tim Thomas' greatness on the ice and poor discretion off of it. I think the following reflects the final stage in the grieving process - acceptance.

Ever since the White House "incident" last season and his Facebook posting about it, I have gone back and forth between thinking Tim Thomas is an obnoxious idiot for saying that shit on Facebook and thinking everyone who judges him for it is an obnoxious idiot. The bottom line is that I love Tim Thomas for what he has done for the Bruins and that will never change. But why must he continue to progress into a more and more unlikable person off the ice? While I will always love and appreciate Thomas, I am not so sure that him possibly never returning to the Bruins is a bad thing.
When Thomas refused to go to the White House with the rest of the team last season, I was mad that he would do something so selfish for his own personal politics. I understand that it's his right to do and say what he wants in this regard as an American, but I also have the same right to think it sucks that he's doing it. I became even more annoyed when he posted on his Facebook about it. But when the Bruins were losing games and people began to blame it on the whole White House fiasco, I was just sick of it. I am easily pissed off as it is when the Bruins are struggling, and when something so simple and stupid surrounds it, it makes me even angrier.

I don't think that this had anything to do with the Bruins losing streak. As I posted in March, the Bruins were overdue for a tough stretch because of the unsustainable nature of their earlier winning streaks that season. It seemed like the media (one media member in particular) was trying to make something out of nothing, and it was incredibly aggravating on every level. To quote myself:

This is why the idea of the Tim Thomas White House "incident" is so ridiculously inappropriate in trying to assess anything that may have gone wrong or is going wrong with the Bruins. It's easy to pin troubles on a highly publicized drama fest like that because it serves as a mental timeline for the general period of "decline" in the Bruins play rather than look at the solid data.
I still believe that. In the face of the continued press coverage on Tim Thomas' personal politics, Facebook postings, and refusal to talk about it in the media (with one obnoxious media member in particular), I became increasingly defensive of Thomas. I got really mad when people blamed him - to the point of some pretty ridiculous outrage, even for me - and didn't understand how anyone could suddenly turn against someone I pretty much hold to be a Saint. I wished he would stop posting on Facebook, but wished more that people would stop talking about it.

Of course it didn't stop, especially because Thomas kept posting on Facebook. He would lash out at reporters for asking him about it when he clearly said that when asked about it, he would end the media session, and he did just that. That's fine. But what I don't think he understood and still doesn't understand is that what he calls his "private" Facebook is not private at all. It's public not just because it's open for everyone to see, but because it's not even an individual Facebook profile. It's a public, official fan page that exists for the exact purpose of representing the athlete on every level. Whatever is posted on there is public and open to scrutiny, even if the beliefs posted have nothing to do with hockey.

I honestly don't think it hurt the Bruins locker room, but the fact that he put the team in a position to be speculated about in that way sucks. It sucks for the team and it sucks as a fan. But nothing sucks mopre than when your team game overtime...on a goal that shouldn't have counted. But then it got suckier when he decided to announce he's taking a year off.

I try to rationalize the situation to have a minimal effect on the positive notions I have about Timmy. I read an article (I forget by who, apologies) that suggested that it was understandable for Timmy to want a year off because he finally had enjoyed the ultimate success after spending the majority of his adult life - and the entirety of his children's lives - struggling to make it to the NHL, bouncing around the minor leagues and living overseas. He now had achieved the goals he set out for himself and the stability to settle down.

Whatever reasons he has for taking the year off, it's no longer possible to rationalize what he's doing with anything other than "because he's crazy". He put the Bruins in a hell of a position by bailing on one year of his contract. Here is where the "because it's America and it's free" argument is hard to use because even though he certainly can do this (because he is), it's breaking his contract and walking out on something he committed to when he signed that contract.

Since the Bruins have the luxury of having a starting goaltender as their "backup" in Tuukka Rask, the Bruins aren't totally screwed with him sitting the season out. I feel positive about Tuukka taking over full starting goaltending duties. I also feel pretty positive about Anton Khudobin as the surefire backup even though he has minimal NHL experience. What he has shown I have liked, and I have faith. The Bruins can win without Tim Thomas (at least they should be able to), but he really screwed the team over because they'll still have to deal with his salary cap hit of $5 million. This sucks for the Bruins because we already have the biggest payroll in the league and are struggling to work under the cap limit, but it's not a death sentence. The only death sentence here is if the CBA negotiations go to hell and there is no season at all. But I don't want to get into that.

My point is that through it all, starting with the White House, through all the bullshit on Facebook, to announcing he's leaving the team for a year, I have still felt the need to defend him. It's a normal reaction for diehard sports fans, and even after the most recent incident, I understand why many Bruins fans are still upset that people are upset with Timmy. It's in our nature as sports fans to be irrational when we are 'losing', and at this point, Tim Thomas is pretty much a loser. Not on the ice, definitely not on the ice. But off the ice, where his personality kicks in. Even though he's always been a fantastically nice person in fan interactions and other displays off the ice, his Facebook rants show a side of him that I would rather not see. And yes, he has the right to post whatever the fuck he wants, and disagreeing with his opinions doesn't make him in the wrong for having those opinions.

But there's a reason why athletes keep their personal lives personal. It has nothing to do with the game, and they recognize that giving the media any little tiny shred of ridiculousness to go nuts over is their own fault. Tim Thomas still doesn't recognize this - or he does recognize it, and likes that no matter what he posts, it will get a lot of attention and therefore his opinions will be heard. Sure, it's his right to use Facebook and his status as a popular, successful athlete as a soapbox for his extreme political beliefs, but there is a reason we fans prefer not to know anything about the athlete's personally and why we should want to keep it that way.

Becoming exposed to the personality behind an athlete you love will kill it for you. That's why I can no longer defend Tim Thomas posting on Facebook. It's just disappointing. Incredibly disappointing. And nothing hurts a sports fan more than disappointment (and failure).

His most recent Facebook update, which happened today, remains his personal opinion that does not define his abilities as an athlete. And while my officially party line that I love Tim Thomas no matter what remains true, I gotta jump on board with people who are fed up with his online antics. It's exposing a side to him that most athletes don't normally show because they like their privacy and it has nothing to do with their game. I just wish Tim Thomas would stop using his Facebook, or stop updating it with this shit.

It breaks my heart to know that Thomas will never play for the Bruins again, but I understand now that it is best that he never does. He has done enough to sully the amazing reputation he built for himself as a Boston athlete. I don't think I can bare any more disappointments from him. I care too much about him because he brought me one thing I was afraid I'd never see in my lifetime, and what may remain one of the happiest things in my life - the Bruins winning a Stanley Cup. I love him for what he's done, but it sucks that shit has gone down like this.

In today's instance, it really sucks for people on a more personal level than before because it is a statement that spits in the face of gay and lesbian individuals. It really sucks because the You Can Play campaign has been making a lot of progress and that has been incredibly gratifying to be a part of. It's an important movement that has been a long time coming, and Thomas' Facebook ramblings today represent his position as part of the population that is still fighting to disenfranchise gay and lesbian people.

While his update is supposed to come off as a statement in support of private businesses and free speech, it is an announcement that he is anti-gay. If he were to update saying that he stood with Chik-Fil-A because they are a private business and have the right to have an opinion about gay marriage, that would be one thing. But obviously that's not the case as he states he stands with Chik-Fil-A's position against gay marriage and gay rights and worst of all, reinforcing ridiculous statements about how "redefining what marriage is all about" - man and woman, and whatever other ridiculous bullshit the Bible says about marriage if you take the time to read it - is inviting the wrath of God onto Earth. What the fuck?

Yes, it's okay to think and say that in legal terms, but (in my opinion, of course, but an opinion I believe is going to become a growing truth over time) it's close-minded and morally wrong. I can (barely) deal with Tim Thomas being a radical right-wing Tea Party Republican who believes Rush Limbaugh is an admirable human being, but I can't rationalize defending Timmy in this case. I am bummed that a player I love is justifiably no longer a beloved player. I am really bummed that it's gotten to the point where, according to DJ Bean of WEEI's Bruins Blog, current Bruins players are relieved that they no longer have to deal with Timmy's bullshit.

In conclusion, it sucks that Thomas willingly publicizes his radical beliefs that are in direct opposition not only with mine, but in the case of gay rights, also in opposition of many other NHL fans and players who support You Can Play. It sucks that the accomplishments he has as a Boston Bruin that I have and will always cherish will always be remembered with a tagline about him being a radical lunatic. It sucks that he put his teammates and fans through having to continuously answer to or defend his actions, only to be personally insulted or proven wrong.

But what can you do? At this point, shrug your shoulders and walk away from pointless arguments. What remains in concrete is that he won a Cup for the Bruins and has done amazing things for the team I love, and I will always care about that. What he has done on the ice matters to me, and what he has done off the ice I can only shake my head and throw my hands up at.

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