Washington Capitals Sports and Politics

By – Paul Grossinger

Sports and politics: they don’t mix. Or do they?

On April 16th, Washington Capitals fans taunted Boston Bruins goalie Tim Thomas during the NHL playoffs. That’s normal but their method of taunting was not: the fans held up President Obama signs!

Thomas boycotted the Bruins’ visit to the White House after winning last year’s Stanley Cup, stating that he felt the government was growing out of control. Some genius fan decided that was the best way to unnerve Boston’s goalkeeper and it spread out from there.

Did it work? Well, not exactly: the Bruins lead the series 2-1 headed into Game 4 and look poised to advance to the next round. Is it time for Capitals fans to find a Nancy Pelosi sign?

Jokes aside, politics and sports do mix but only on rare occasions. In this case, the taunted appears a bit strange because Thomas’ political opinions have nothing to do with the NHL playoffs. Mocking him for missing a White House photo-op seems silly, bordering on the ridiculous.

Sports are entertainment, a pastime for people to forget about their own problems and those of society, which often includes politics. When fans watch a sporting event, they usually want to get away from those daily concerns and immerse themselves in the game.

But, sometimes, sports can play host to some of the strongest political statements. Sometimes, the politicization of sports even helps produce societal change.

In 2003, Martha Burke led a large protest at the Masters golf tournament at Augusta National. There was a clear intersection between sports and politics: Augusta National, which hosts the Masters annually, had an all-male membership policy. The protest drew attention to the issue, which remains a yearly topic of discussion before the Masters. The club remains all-male to this day but, with a few more strong protests that may change.

So, putting President Obama signs in Tim Thomas’ face may not be the most meaningful intersection of sports and politics. But it does remind us that there have been very meaningful statements in the past and, when politics veer into the realm of sports, it can help to bring attention and, in time, produce change.

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