Daniel Murphy was out of the New York Mets’ Opening Day lineup because his wife is expecting the couple’s first child, and according to the Mets, he’ll miss the next few games as he stays with her. That’s unfortunate for the Mets — Murphy played 161 games last season and batted .286 with 13 home runs and 78 RBI, so the team could use his production — but it’s pretty easy to see why the birth of his first child might take precedent over a few April baseball games.
Murphy is hardly alone in making that decision. Miami Heat forward Chris Bosh, for instance, missed an early season game in November to be with his wife as she gave birth to their daughter, and it’s fairly common across sports for other athletes to do the same. But as HardballTalk’s Craig Calcaterra found, at least a few Twitter-using Mets fans didn’t like the idea of Murphy taking paternity leave at the start of the baseball season (see update below).
Those Twitter reactions certainly aren’t indicative of all Mets fans, most of whom probably don’t have a problem with Murphy missing a few games. But whether some Mets fans are angry or not, there’s an important point to be made about the fact that Murphy even has the ability to take paid leave from his employer, because that’s an opportunity most American workers don’t enjoy. The United States, in fact, is one of just three nations out of 178 surveyed that doesn’t guarantee paid maternity leave, putting us behind countries from Canada (50 weeks) to the United Kingdom (20) to Mexico and Pakistan (12). American mothers, by contrast, are guaranteed 12 weeks of unpaid leave. We don’t guarantee paid paternity leave either, again putting us behind other industrialized countries, from Iceland (3 months) to Norway (10 weeks) to the United Kingdom and Kenya (2 weeks). And while some states guarantee paid leave, employers don’t do much to pick up the slack: just 11 percent of private sector workers and 17 percent of those in the public sector say they are guaranteed paid leave.
Giving workers paid leave isn’t just a nice gesture. Studies show that paid leave “may be a cost-effective way to improve children’s health,” leading to lower rates of infant mortality, allergies, obesity, and other health problems. Other studies suggest that paid leave increases parental involvement in childhood development both early on and later, and it’s good for workers and their employers too, boosting worker retention rates and morale (both good for employers) and making it more likely that working mothers will receive wage increases and less likely that they will suffer financial hardships to provide basic childcare.
Murphy doesn’t have to worry about many of those problems — he makes enough money that taking a few days off work won’t put his family in financial peril. But he’s lucky, because that’s a luxury that many American workers can’t afford, and that’s a much bigger missed opportunity for our country than missing a productive baseball player for a few days will be for the Mets.
CBS Sports radio show Boomer & Carton didn’t like Murphy’s decision, with co-host and former NFL quarterback Boomer Esaison saying that it was time to “get your ass back to work.”
“He’s got legal rights to be there,” Esaison began. “Bottom line, that’s not me. I wouldn’t do that. 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.’”
New York radio host Mike Francesa also took exception to Murphy’s taking time off, calling paternity leave a “scam” and a “gimmick.”
The original version of this post included a tweet from @TheFoyeEffect calling paternity leave “stupid,” but that tweet was a joke (as you can see from other tweets made about it). The tweet has been removed, and we apologize for the error.