New York Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy’s decision to miss two games at the start of baseball season to be with his wife as she gave birth to the couple’s first child has sparked an unexpected “controversy” about the merits of athletes taking paternity leave. While the Mets and most of their fans were just fine with Murphy’s decision, he attracted criticism on multiple radio shows.
“Bottom line, that’s not me. I wouldn’t do that,” CBS Sports radio host and former NFL quarterback Boomer Esiason said Wednesday. “Quite frankly, I would have said ‘C-section before the season starts, I need to be at opening day. I’m sorry. This is what makes our money. This is how we’re going to live our life. This is going to give my child every opportunity to be a success in life. I’ll be able to afford to send my child to any college I want to because I’m a baseball player.’”
“I just want to say again on this radio show that in no way, shape or form was I advocating anything for anybody to do. I was not telling women what to do with their bodies,” he said. “I would never do that. That’s their decision, that’s their life and they know their bodies better than I do. And the other thing, too, that I really felt bad about is that Daniel Murphy and Tori Murphy were dragged into a conversation, and their whole life was exposed. And it shouldn’t have been.
“And that is my fault. That is my fault for uttering the word ‘C-section’ on this radio station. And it all of a sudden put their lives under a spotlight, and for that I truly apologize. I tried to reach out to Daniel yesterday through intermediaries over there at the New York Mets, and to his credit, he answered all of his questions yesterday. I’m sorry that he had to go through that. No man should have to go through that. And certainly Daniel Murphy, who we both admire much as a baseball player as anybody else — and all I can say is that I truly, truly, feel terrible about what I put them through. So for that I certainly apologize.”
Esiason’s apology is heartfelt and sincere, and it seems to recognize that none of this should have been controversial from the start. Still, paternity leave (and other paid family leave) can cause issues for athletes. Former NFL linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo wrote about the issue in his Fox Sports column this week, questioning, as Deadspin’s Barry Petchesky noted, whether his decision to take paternity leave to be with his daughter at the start of the 2005 season contributed to then-head coach Nick Saban’s decision to trade him to the Chicago Bears just days later.
“Did Saban ship me off because I put my family before football? Did the team question my desire to be a Dolphin because of my life priorities?” Ayanbadejo asked. “[D]espite the fact that I do believe that the Dolphins — or certainly Saban at least — questioned my desire to be a Dolphin due to the priority I placed on family, family always has and always will come first.”
Even if paternity leave led to Ayanbadejo’s trade, most athletes don’t have any problem taking time off to be with their families, especially when newborn children are involved. It’s a fairly routine practice — Miami Heat forward Chris Bosh missed a game last November to be with his wife after the birth of their daughter, and he has left the team (without missing games) to be with his family for the birth of a child during the playoffs. And even if it was only really an issue on talk radio, it should have never been a point of discussion around Murphy: Major League Baseball’s collective bargaining agreement specifically allows players to take one-to-three days of paternity leave.
Again, the issue is that similar rights aren’t enshrined for many American workers, most of whom make less than athletes like Murphy and don’t have defined offseasons that make planning for the birth of a child (slightly) easier. The United States doesn’t guarantee paid paternity leave under federal law, and only about 15 percent of workers say their employers provide it. We don’t even guarantee paid maternity leave, making us one of only a handful of developed countries where that is true. This despite the health and financial benefits such policies provide to newborn children, their families, and even businesses they work for.
Daniel Murphy has a strong union that bargained for his right to take time off to be with his wife and child. He has the financial means to have done so even if his leave wasn’t guaranteed and paid. The problem is that too many workers in the United States don’t have the right or the means to do the same.