Collective Bargaining Issues First Amendment

Do Professional Athletes Have to Sacrifice Political Views for Obligations to the League CBA?

The following article was written by Cyle Kiger.

By now, sports enthusiasts know that Tim Thomas skipped the Boston Bruins White House visit a few days ago.  Thomas is not the first professional player reject the invitation, Ben Wallace and Manny ‘being Manny’ Ramirez also did not attend their teams’ visits.  Thomas’ decision to post his political views about the federal government is what has stirred up controversy among his teammates, players around the league and fans nation-wide.

Instead of facing the media, Thomas chose to use his First Amendment right to freedom of speech via Facebook.  In my eyes, Thomas should have at least faced the media about his decision not to visit the White House instead of posting his view on Facebook:

“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.
This is the only public statement I will be making on this topic. TT”

I have no problem with him talking about his political views, it’s why he wouldn’t go to the White House with the team that bothers me.  Regardless of who is in office and what your political views are, meeting the President of the United States in the White House with the 2011 Stanley Cup Champion Boston Bruins is a once in a lifetime event that Tim Thomas may end up regretting later in life.

The issue was front and center news when the story broke.  The Bruins organization along with Thomas handled it quietly, but the team had the right to punish the player as stated in the NHL CBA.

The Player agrees:

2(d)  to co-operate with the Club and participate in any and all reasonable promotional activities of the Club which will in the opinion of the Club promote the welfare of the Club and to cooperate in the promotion of the League and professional hockey generally,

2(e)  to conduct himself on and off the rink according to the highest standards of honesty, morality, fair play and sportsmanship, and to refrain from conduct detrimental to the best interest of the Club, the League or professional hockey generally.

The president of the Boston Bruins, Cam Neely, stated that the organization is disappointed in Thomas’ decision not to join the team at the White House, however not disappointed enough to suspend the player.  The organization clearly could have suspended him for the matter by arguing that he did not refrain from conduct detrimental to the Boston Bruins.  I do, however, feel as though the Boston Bruins handled Tim Thomas the correct way because the story may have blown up even more had they suspended him.

Unfortunately, today’s athlete does have to sacrifice some freedom in certain situations, and I do not think that it is something that can be resurrected.  A high-profile athlete, and any employee for that matter, needs to be held accountable for what he says because it can affect the organization negatively by being associated with him.

This will be a classic case of the misuse of social media by a professional athlete for some time. It is an action like Thomas’, that agreements such as 2(d)(e) need to be put into CBAs, because athletes need to know that consequences do exist, and at the very least be held accountable for their actions so the burden does not fall on the organization.

One reply on “Do Professional Athletes Have to Sacrifice Political Views for Obligations to the League CBA?”

Interesting recap. I have to agree that it hurts his position in the team as a team player. Also makes you wonder, what is his real argument? It’s not like a hockey player not going to the White House will change things. I’m not even sure it influences things. The building is an historical monument and a classic sign of freedom in a world that is much more oppressed than we are in America. If it’s about party lines, that’s one thing. But if he says it’s not then is Facebook the real venue for discussion? Hmm. Btw, I like the legal component associated with the news. Nice angle!

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