Jun 14, 2012

We Talkin'...Bout Hockey

But not really. I just saw on SportsCenter that Bruins Goalie Tim Thomas's agent confirmed reports from a couple of weeks ago that Thomas was going to be sitting out the up-coming NHL season to "spend time reconnecting with family, friends, and faith." While I'm sure Boston is flipping a shit right now, I just wanted to add my two cents to what a majority of people will call a "selfish" "immature" "unprofessional" move.

Sure, at the age of 38, if you don't feel like playing maybe you should retire so you're not putting your team in a tough spot where they have an important position to fill without you. Imagine how pissed you would be if you were told that your Con Smythe,  two-time Veniza Trophy winning, 4-time All-Star, unquestionable best player, randomly decided to take a year off.

Now imagine if you were 38-years old, and spent a little more than 60% of your professional career floundering around, from company-to-company, knowing you were incredibly talented but not getting the right chance to showcase your capabilities. What if you finally were given that one opportunity, made the most of it, achieved success in every way possible that you had never imagined, and woke up one day feeling like you had neglected everything that was important to you in pursuit of your job?

Sure, to most of us, career success is priority number one. It's the foundation for a lot of us. We chase it, and chase it and usually are never happy with the success we have because we're seeking something greater, something we grew up dreaming of. Tim Thomas sort of achieved that success after years of struggling. After four years of extremely competitive college hockey at the University of Vermont, Thomas bounced from the NHL, to the ECHL, to the IHL, to Finland, to the AHL, not to mention from city-to-city in America throughout those journey years.

After joining the pro-ranks in 1997, Thomas didn't play in more than 30 NHL games until the 2005-06 season. In 2006-07 he played 66 games, the next season he had his first of four (out of the next five) All-Star seasons. By the next season he had won his first Veniza (Best Goaltender) Trophy, and just a few seasons later he and the Bruins won the Stanley Cup, and the equivalent of the Stanley Cup MVP (sorry, this website isn't fluent in Hockey).

So what if at 38 he feels like taking a year off? So what if it's a year of his prime (some peak later in life)? So what if he's going to take a year off from his $5 million contract? Is that really your concern? Is it more important to you that a man who plays a sport for a living - it's not like he's saving lives - works a physically and mentally draining job instead of pursuing the meaning of happiness by reconnecting with what he values in life?

Not everyone has the same set of values, which is what leads me to questioning who the selfish and immature person in this equation really is. I'm not saying that I wouldn't be pissed if Carmelo Anthony or Darrelle Revis actually decided to sit a year out, oh wait, Revis may sit a year out, because the $5+ million he's due next season isn't enough for him to play. We support most football players who want to sit out because they don't feel a contract that they've signed is fair anymore, but we get all over a 38-year old man, who disregards the money, and just says he wants a short break from his job so he can spend time with his family. Right.

I don't remember Andy Pettitte being criticized, same for Roger Clemens, heck even Michael Jordan wasn't ostracized for leaving the league that he was the reigning 3-time MVP of. But we're going to get all over Tim Thomas, who actually said something humble, something you don't frequently here a professional athlete say.

Raise your hand if you know someone that took a year off after college. Now raise your hand if you know someone who took a year off during college. How about a semester.  Was it ok for them to make that decision? Did you judge them at all for making that decision, or did you say to yourself "it's their life, they can do whatever they feel is right, but I have to focus on me and what I think is right."

We all follow what we think to be the best paths for our lives. Most times that's driven by money, sometimes it's driven by other people, and sometimes it's driven around a certain plan, but it's always based on what we think is right. Whether it was not giving up on pursuing his dream, playing as much hockey wherever and whenever he could, or skipping out on going to the White House as a political statement after the Bruins won the Stanley Cup, Tim Thomas has always done what he felt was right. At this point in his life, Tim Thomas is doing what he thinks is right.

Too often we get all over athletes like they're not real people. We hold them to standards that we should hold our important decision-makers and world leaders to. When they don't meet our expectations they're somehow less than us. LeBron James is averaging 30 points, 9 rebounds, and 5 assists this season in the playoffs. The only other people to put up those stat lines in as many playoff games are Oscar Robertson and...LeBron James. But it's not good enough because he's not hitting game-winning shots on a nightly basis. Until LeBron does what YOU want him to do, he won't be as great as he really is, and that's sad.

Tim Thomas has been playing hockey all of his life. He's had his ups, and he's definitely had his downs. Why isn't he entitled to a year off? If someone you knew was sick of their job, and had the means to take some time off, wouldn't you want them to do what would make them happiest? I don't totally sympathize for Thomas, but I do think that we should all be able to do what we want with our lives.

If he doesn't play next season then he's the one that's going to miss a paycheck. He's the one that's going to lose a year off of his physically limited career. He's the one that's going to have to watch the games and deal with the guilt of leaving his teammates. And he's the one that's going to have to take the criticism from people who value his job more than he apparently does. At least he'll be spending his time pursuing his priorities, and living a life that he values.

Hats off to him.

1 comment:

Matthew Frank's CSCI 12 Blog said...

If he wasn't a nutjob, tea party blowhard, I would actually have more sympathy for the criticism he's receiving. NHL goalies play one of the most demanding positions in professional sports. If he wants to stop playing hockey so he can drive his kids to school, he's already won a cup, what the hell else does he have to accomplish?