Megan Rapinoe, the superstar forward for the World Cup-winning U.S. National Soccer Team, is being heralded as a heroine for refusing to compromise her beliefs by deigning to visit President Trump in the White House.
"I would not go and every teammate that I talked to said they would not go," she told CNN's Anderson Cooper Tuesday night. "I don't think anyone on the team has any interest in lending the platform that we've worked so hard to build, the things that we fight for, and the way that we live our life--I don't think we want that to be co-opted or corrupted by this administration."
This, the media has dutifully reported, is the pinnacle of principle. Rapinoe is putting her commitment to her beliefs ahead of the pomp and pageantry of a White House visit. This sort of thing is commendable...except when it isn't.
Seven years ago, Tim Thomas, the Boston Bruins' Stanley Cup-winning superstar goalie refused to join his team in visiting President Obama at the White House because of a similar devotion to personal political beliefs.
"I believe the Federal government has grown out of control, threatening the Rights, Liberties, and Property of the People," he wrote in a Facebook post explaining his decision. "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."
Thomas didn't mention Obama by name and even took great pains to explain that "this was not about politics or party, as in my opinion both parties are responsible for the situation we are in as a country," but the media still demonized Thomas as unnecessarily politicizing an event that shouldn't be about politics.
"I don't know what kind of point he's trying to make, but it's completely inappropriate and it gives Boston a bad name!" an MSNBC panel concluded. "I think this is the sort of hyper-partisanship that just irritates everybody."
"Shabby. Immature. Unprofessional. Self-centered. Bush league. Need I go on? All that and more applies to what Thomas did," Boston Herald columnist Kevin Dupont wrote. "Tim Thomas yesterday had a chance to tell the leader of the free world what he thinks it means to be an American today....Instead, Thomas took his pads and blocker to another end of town and issued his statement. He could have talked to the president. Instead, he mailed one in from the pizza stand. I think he missed his chance. I think he missed the point of the day. I think he mistreated teammates.
"And if I’m right, I think in the days ahead he’ll hear a voice of America representative of a people, many who are equally fed up with government today, who believe he simply should have showed up for his team, respectfully said what he had to say, and gone back to living a pretty good life. In America."
Thomas' protest, it seems, was so selfish that it was somehow un-American. Sports Illustrated's Stu Hackel even went so far as to call it a slap in the face to not just the President, but to the American people as a whole.
"Tim Thomas may think he's protesting what he sees as some sort of government wrongdoing," he scolded, "but--whether he realizes it or not--he's really being disrespectful to the people of the United States. That's who he snubbed here.
"Thomas decided to exploit a non-political event to expose his personal political views. To exploit this highly visible group function in order to make a statement about one's individual beliefs is sharply out of tune with everything this club has supposedly been about and what that celebration is intended to be.
"It was selfish--that's the only principle here."
Strangely enough, the only difference between Thomas' snub and Rapinoe's is the occupant of the White House, yet no one at Sports Illustrated (or anywhere else in sports media, for that matter) has accused Rapinoe of disrespecting the American people. They're cheering her decision as a conscientious, moral one. Thomas was given no such deference.
"When the president of the United States invites you and all your teammates to the White House to honor your Stanley Cup championship, you go and represent the team," ESPN's Joe McDonald wrote. "On Monday, Thomas instead chose to represent himself."
His absence, McDonald concluded, was "uncalled for."
US News' Susan Milligan even went so far as to say it "wasn't brave. It was just rude."
"Tim Thomas' very public White House snub is not just tiresome or sanctimonious or overwrought (though it is)," she noted. "It underscored a distressing trend in this country: people have lost the ability to distinguish between speaking truth to power and just being a jerk.
"Thomas is a great goalie, and I imagine he gets lots of attention when he's out in public, but he shouldn't assume that makes him the bigger attraction, especially when the president—any president—is in the room. Obama didn't ask Thomas to make a campaign commercial for him, or even to teach civics to school children (which is probably a good thing). Thomas was offered a rare chance to see the White House and meet the president. It's just rude not to go."
Seven years later, though, it's no longer rude. It's downright heroic. What changed--other than, obviously, the occupant of the White House? Rapinoe snubs President Trump and the media makes her into a crusading freedom fighter, but the exact same media calls Thomas a rude jerk who is insulting every one of his countrymen for doing the exact same thing.
The double standard couldn't possibly be more pronounced, and the agenda couldn't possibly be more obvious. The media couldn't possibly allow President Obama to be seen as worthy of protest, while President Trump can't possibly be "legitimized" by someone as virtuous and successful and cool as Megan Rapinoe. Protesting Trump, therefore, isn't just encouraged; it's all but required.
And Rapinoe and her teammates are merely being used to advance an anti-Trump agenda. The media pays lip service to their incredible accomplishments while elevating them because they are willing to say and do the things of which they approve.
One hopes that these great champions are okay with being used as mere political pawns.