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Dad-to-Be Athletes Deserve Their Days Off

It has been said that sports are a mirror of society. If that’s the case, the view hasn’t been too pretty lately.

I speak of the incredible amount of criticism directed at major league baseball players Jimmy Rollins and Daniel Murphy.

Baseball players too often have a lot to apologize for — steroid use quickly comes to mind. But the Philadelphia Phillies’ Rollins and the New York Mets’ Murphy have done absolutely nothing wrong.

The issue that has consumed the airwaves and blogosphere is that Rollins and Murphy chose to leave their teams this week to be with their wives and family for the birth of their children.

For the most part, the clubs have been supportive of their players. It’s been the mindless, take-no-prisoners talk show-blog hosts who have found fault. Some of the critics are former athletes, some not. But all are way off base.

Here’s what former NFL quarterback Boomer Esiason had to say on a New York radio station this week: “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 any college I want to send my kid to because I’m a baseball player.’ ”

Esiason is the father of two children, one of whom is special needs.

So the question of the day is: Why is the concept of men taking leave so foreign to some people? Wouldn’t you want a man with such character on your team? Being a father is the ultimate in being a man.

There is nothing more important than family. First. Foremost. Family.

This decision, to miss a baseball game for the birth of a child, should be one made between the husband and wife. No one else. Not a club official. Not a teammate. Not a fan. Not a media member.

Anyone who doesn’t grasp that doesn’t deserve our attention.

In addition to the social dimension of this issue, there are legal considerations. According to baseball’s collective bargaining agreement, a player has the right to one to three days for the purpose of taking a paternity leave. Period. End of story.

And baseball isn’t the only place this ignorance has shown itself. Earlier in the month, Winnipeg Jets captain Andrew Ladd was taken to task by a radio host for missing a game to be with his wife and newborn daughter.

This radio guy felt compelled to mock Ladd’s decision because the Jets were fighting for an NHL playoff berth. Talk about a homer.

Why are athletes any different from regular 9-to-5 dads? They make more money, sure. But aren’t they allowed to have the same feelings for family as the rest of us?

I held my daughter moments after she was born. That memory will stay with me the rest of my life. Shouldn’t some infielder on a baseball team have the same opportunity to experience something he will cherish forever?

And what about a death in the family? Are professional athletes allowed to grieve like the rest of us, or must they trot out to their position and entertain us?

Just because some players choose not to take the time off — either for joyous occasions or solemn ones — doesn’t make it wrong for others who decide differently. You can talk all you want about the family culture coaches try to instill in their teams, but the true family is the people you hug at home.

And it’s a lesson all you young guys out there would be wise to pick up on. You are young men today, perhaps fathers in the future. How you react to situations like these will mark your ascension to manhood.

Because you ultimately measure a man the same way you do an athlete — by his actions in the clutch.

Don Mahler can be reached at dmahler@vnews.com or 603-727-3225.