On Opening Day, the wife of New York Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy went into labor with the couple's first child. So despite the fact that the season was just getting underway, Murphy took three days off to be with his newly expanded family.
Then the Mets dropped their first two games, and the backlash began.
"You're a major-league baseball player," whined blowhard radio host Mike Francesa. "You can hire a nurse to take care of the baby if your wife needs help."
Others joined the chorus with similar complaints: Murphy is a well-compensated professional athlete who has a four-month-long offseason when he can freely see his kid. In a more thoughtful response than Francesca's, Matt Lewis, a contributing editor at The Week, asked if it was "too much for [Murphy] to, you know, show up."
To answer simply: It is too much to ask. Baseball is a game. At best, in Murphy's case, it's a job. To expect athletes to play rather than be present for one of the proudest, most momentous events of their lives is ludicrous.
There are 162 games in a baseball season; Murphy has missed two of them. There is plenty of time for him to be with his team and earn his salary over the rest of the year.
The whole brouhaha is indicative of the impossibly high standards we set for our stars, and how we treat them as entertainment first and people second. How many average Joes wouldn't ditch their day jobs for a bit to be with their newborns? Yet because Murphy is a paid performer, fans are miffed he's not more concerned with entertaining them.
The roar of the crowd is great and all, but it can't compare to what Murphy must have felt being wife his wife and newborn child.
Also, Murphy is not some self-interested bum taking an unprecedented vacation. Baseball's Collective Bargaining Agreement specifically allows players to take a few days off for paternity leave. In other words, Murphy isn't screwing over his employer; he's exercising his contractual rights.
That in itself is a hard-won benefit players are absolutely entitled to. As Nolan Ryan joked a few years ago, childbirth in his day was "just something you heard about if it happened during the season," with the wife calling to say, "By the way, you have a new son or daughter."
There are also economic and gender equality reasons why paternity leave should be a no-brainer.
As Liza Mundy pointed out at The Atlantic, a World Economic Forum report last year found that countries with stronger economies tended to have policies designed to aid women's careers. Paternity leave was one such effective policy, because it served as an early "behavior-modification tool" that was "shown to boost male participation in the household, enhance female participation in the labor force, and promote gender equity in both domains."
So why don't more men take paternity leave in America?
Partly because there is no federally mandated time off for new parents, which makes the U.S. an extreme outlier. Of 38 developed nations examined by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) last year, the U.S ranked dead last in government support for working parents, just behind Mexico.
As a result, paternity leave is largely a foreign concept in America. We're simply not used to the idea of men taking time off, which makes it shocking when such a prominent figure does so. As Carmel Lobello wrote in The Week earlier this year, that's created a social stigma around paternity leave: Men don't want to take time off for fear of being branded effeminate little sissies.
When applied to the hyper-masculine world of sports, that caricature is distorted out of reason. "You want to spend time with your new kid — instead of engaging in feats of competitive strength? Outrageous!"
It shouldn't be that way. Expecting Murphy to place baseball above his family assumes that sports are far, far more important than they actually are.
And besides, Murphy plays for the Mets. Would they really have won those two games with him in the lineup?
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