Yesterday’s Internet Kerfuffle involved Bruins goalie Tim Thomas, and the announcement that he was opting out of an invitation to the White House, while the rest of his team went. In a brief statement, Thomas explained that he did so because of dissatisfaction with the federal government.
To his credit, there was minimal soapboxing on his part, and he was “diplomatic” enough to place blame on both parties for said dissatisfaction with the government. No, the real grandstanding came from fans on both sides of the aisle, which of course erupted into the usual Pissing Match Among The Incontinent so common to the internet. Lurking about, I saw comments running the gamut from “Yea Tim! Take a stand against that socialist president!” to the broad-stroked assumption that any sympathy with Tea Party politics automatically makes you a racist. Because, of course, we the Internet Peanut Gallery automatically know everyone’s true motives, don’t we?
As it stands, liberals are accusing Thomas of being “unsportsmanlike,” while conservatives are trotting out his “right as an American” to exercise his freedom of expression. Make no mistake – if the tables were turned and we were in some alternate reality where Tim Thomas was a liberal Democrat refusing a meeting at the White House under the McCain administration, conservatives would be eight kinds of offended. Don’t even tell me they wouldn’t be. People on the internet LOVE to be offended; we wouldn’t have comments sections otherwise.
And I, of course, am guilty of the fire-ready-aim mindset that permeates the current state of discourse in this country. My immediate reaction was “What a DOUCHE,” and while I still hold that sometimes – just sometimes – one truly must don one’s big boy pants and “take one for the TEAM,” as it were, I did have to pause and ask myself the question: would I have accepted an invitation to the White House during the W administration? Ultimately, I believe I would have, because an invitation to the White House is just that. It’s an enduring symbol of the United States, where we’re presumably all in this together, just like the Bruins.
Thus the larger issue, I think (and I am admittedly no expert here), is hyperpartisanship and a climate/culture that profits from feeding into it. A Twitter acquaintance of mine asked: if the media hadn’t jumped all over it, would Tim Thomas even have been put in a position where he had to explain himself? A celebrity or sports figure “standing his or her ground” is good for a couple days of editorials and site hits. At the end of the day, everyone enjoys getting good and indignant, because it distracts us from having to think things through.
We have funny ideas about freedom of speech and the right to assemble lately. The Occupy protesters are roundly denounced as being a bunch of jobless miscreants in need of a flea dip who have no right to complain, while a professional hockey player is hailed as a maverick for complaining. And the hell of it all is: at the very core, they are complaining about THE EXACT SAME THING. It’s just that nobody wants to acknowledge that, because it’s easier to take your ball (or puck) and go home than to share it.