UNPOPULAR OPINION: I Don't Mind if Baseball Players Take Paternity Leave, but NFL Players? Not So Much.
Last week, a man’s wife went into the hospital to have a Cesarean section. He took his three allowed days of paternity leave to provide support and love for her and their first born. During that time, he missed one very important meeting that could not be rescheduled in his absence. I know what you’re probably thinking. Perhaps something like, “Wow, it seems like a father should get more than three days off of work to spend with his wife and newborn baby.” That's totally true. But, sadly, that’s not what this article is about.
Rather, when that man took three days off of work, a few of his colleagues freaked out and shamed him for daring to do such a thing. One went so far as to say that his wife should have scheduled her C-Section for a time when work wasn’t so busy. That charming fellow? Former NFL quarterback Boomer Esiason. The guy he was talking about? NY Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy.
Esiason’s co-host Craig Carton also felt like by taking 2.5 days of paternity leave and missing one game, Murphy made the wrong choice. He said, "To me, and this is just my sensibility, assuming the birth went well, assuming your wife is fine, assuming the baby is fine -- 24 hours, you stay there, baby is good, you have a good support system for the mom and the baby, you get your ass back to your team and you play baseball.” I guess we should be happy he at least saw why it was important for Murphy to be there for the delivery?
Those two weren’t the only ones to chide Murphy publicly. Radio host Mike Francesca also got in on the action, saying it was ridiculous for any man to take more than a few hours off after the birth of his child. “You can hire a nurse to take care of the baby if your wife needs help," he said. “What are you gonna do? Are you gonna sit there and look at your wife in the hospital bed for two days?”
Here’s the thing: Murphy’s wife’s timing was “unfortunate,” although that’s clearly a ridiculous thing to say about someone’s labor, because it coincided with Opening Day, which is so important to baseball fans that many of them believe it should be a national holiday. I mean, couldn’t Murphy and his wife have gotten pregnant a month or two earlier? Sheesh! Sarcasm aside though, I do believe that if Murphy –- who only missed one game last season (fewer than anyone else on his team) -- had taken paternity leave in, say, June, no one would have blinked an eye.
Still, people did blink an eye -- loudly and publicly -- and that’s disturbing. Daniel Murphy wanted to be with his wife when their first child was born. He took the time allotted by MLB (the only pro sports league that even has paternity leave, and even then, only since 2011) and he and his wife both feel great about that decision. Murphy said of the first night with the baby, “"It was dark. [My wife] tried to change a diaper -- couldn't do it. I came in. It was just the three of us at 3 o'clock in the morning, all freaking out."
Clearly that’s a man who has his priorities straight.
And I should also mention that Esiason has since apologized -- thanks to the uproar of more sensible folks -- and, for the most part, Murphy’s paternity leave has become a non-story.
Which is good.
But I can’t stop thinking about how different things would be if Murphy were an NFL player. If someone like Aaron Rodgers or Patrick Willis or Adrian Peterson or really any of 100 crucial guys missed one of only 16 regular season games to be with his wife and help her change those very first diapers at 3 a.m.
Would I be so forgiving? Would I think it was his right to take three days of paternity leave and that everyone should shut their mouths about it? Would I celebrate his decision to put fatherhood first?
If you’re not a football fan, you’re going to say of course. And I can see why. After all, that is the rational answer.
But if you are a football fan. If one of your best players isn’t on the field voluntarily -- because he’s with his wife two days after she gave birth -- how do you feel? What if it’s his second child? Or his fifth? If your team pulls out the W, then you probably move on and forget it ever even happened. But what if you lose?
The truth is: That scenario probably wouldn’t happen. In fact, I can’t imagine a single situation in which a starting player would voluntarily miss an NFL game. With only 16 regular season games, there’s too much on the line. One loss can mean a team misses the playoffs. And with pro careers that only last an average of three years, that’s just not a risk I can imagine any of those guys taking.
And -- here's where I sound like a crazy person -- I will admit I’d be pretty pissed if one of the starting 49ers players or coaches missed a game because his wife gave birth. Part of me wishes I didn’t feel that way, but I’m also not embarrassed that I do. I am certain I am not alone in this feeling. After all, there’s a reason “fan” is short for “fanatic.”
Again, it’s different than the Daniel Murphy situation. The MLB season is 162 games long, not 16. What happens in April can be made up for in August (hopefully), if necessary. And, I feel confident that Murphy would not have taken as much time off if his wife gave birth while his team was in the playoffs or the World Series. (I mean, he plays for the Mets, so that’s not a choice he’ll ever have to make, but theoretically.)
Still, it feels a little weird to be so outraged over people giving a baseball player a hard time for wanting to spend a few days with his wife and their brand new baby, but to know that I’d be right there with them if it were a player on my football team.
What can I say? Sports make some of us crazy. I’m usually pretty thoughtful and rational, but I’d miss my own wedding, hell, I’d miss my own funeral, not to mention the birthdays, anniversaries, going away parties, housewarmings, baby showers, and any other important event of the people I love, if there were a 49ers game that day. So I guess it’s not really a surprise that I’d be pissed if I felt like one of my players weren’t willing to do the same.
Irrational and unfortunate, sure. A surprise for anyone who knows and loves me? Probably not.
That being said, I’d like to say to all of the players on the Seattle Seahawks: First, get someone pregnant immediately. Then, when the time comes for her to give birth? Say around December/January? Go ahead and skip the game. In fact, skip all of the games. I won’t mind one bit.