“Tim Thomas has turned New Boston into Old Boston”
—Howard Bryant, author of Shut Out: A Story of Race and Baseball in Boston
As rapidfire as Twitter itself, what started as a moment of a sports euphoria turned decidedly ugly. There were the Washington Capitals beating the Boston Bruins 2-1 in Game 7 and moving on toward the National Hockey League’s greatest prize, the Stanley Cup. Before my disbelieving eyes, the Caps’ Joel Ward scored the winning overtime goal against last year’s Stanley Cup hero, Tim Thomas. But Ward is a black man, and before you could say “post-racial,” self-identifying Bruin fans tweeted a cascade of ugly invective, with the “N-word” being their epithet of choice.
For a small group of sad fools, the symbolism of the moment—Ward beats Thomas!—overtook them in the worst possible ways.
Tim Thomas is the player who created a sports media firestorm by refusing to join his team and meet with President Obama after the Bruins won the 2012 Stanley Cup. To be clear, I have zero problems with athletes refusing to be part of presidential photo ops, but his political reasons are not irrelevant to what caused last night’s spasm of hate. Thomas is a proud, financial supporter of the Tea Party. He counts Glenn Beck as a hero and once emblazoned the “Don’t Tread on Me” flag on his helmet. When asked by reporters why he wouldn’t meet with Obama, Thomas didn’t comment and instead referred people to his Facebook page, which had a paragraph about “out of control Federal government.”
To see no connection between the Tea Party, Glenn Beck and the politics of racial resentment is to subscribe to either blind ignorance or political cowardice. (Even Beck, last December, inferred that racism in the Tea Party drives anti-Obama animus.)
Howard Bryant, senior ESPN writer commented to me this morning, “The goal itself wasn’t particularly important. [Barbadian-Canadian] Anson Carter was a Boston playoff hero during the 1999 playoffs. The significance of Ward’s goal is that the man he beat, Tim Thomas, has through his thinly veiled racism undermined what should be a glorious revival of hockey in Boston. In turn, he encouraged the revival of an attitude that people wanted to think was out of fashion. I don’t care if it was a lunatic fringe or a larger portion of the Bruins’ fan base, but Thomas by himself turned new Boston into old Boston, and the embarrassing fan response to Ward’s goal proved it.”