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Daniel Murphy
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Daniel Murphy

Rounding for home

Sports | Baseball player Daniel Murphy launches debate on paternity leave for athletes

Issue: "Coat of many dollars," May 3, 2014

Zealous sports fans and radio pundits had to bite their tongues after a national dispute over New York Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy, 29. His crime? Missing two games after his wife, Tori, gave birth to their first child.

Named for the biblical character, little Noah came at noon Monday on Opening Day, March 31. The Mets had Tuesday off. But because his wife’s cesarean section left her weak and would prevent her from traveling to New York from the couple’s Florida home for weeks, Murphy took the extra day off and missed Wednesday’s game. “A father seeing his wife—she was completely finished,” he told reporters. “Having me there helped a lot, and vice versa.” The Mets lost both games.

Mets manager Terry Collins defended Murphy, but New York radio hosts blasted the player and the whole concept of paternity leave. You see the birth, they said, and you get back to work. Boomer Esiason, a former NFL quarterback, said he would have asked for a C-section before the season. Mike Francesa also criticized Murphy and other players taking time off from the game for a child’s birth: “For what?” he asked. “To take pictures?” He said he would “rather go out and get a couple of hits if I was a player.”

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Murphy was actually entitled to those three days through baseball’s labor rules, and at least three other players took paternity leave the same week.

Laced with sarcasm, criticism of the radio hosts became a social and worldview forum for workers’ rights to gender roles. Even ultra-liberal MSNBC stood up for Murphy, on liberal grounds: The view that a woman should make it on her own—at least in the domestic sphere—comes from the dreaded culprit of patriarchy, Chris Hayes said. Being with your wife and child “actually is part of being a man.” Esiason apologized for his comments, saying he “felt really bad” and he wasn’t “telling women what to do with their bodies.” But Francesa stood his ground: Hire a nurse. “Your wife doesn’t need your help the first couple of days, you know that,” Francesa said.

Murphy joins a list of several athletes similarly scrutinized in football, a sport with only 16 games per season rather than 162. Chicago Bears cornerback Charles Tillman had encouragement from teammates facing a potential game day birth in 2012. But NBC Sports’ Mike Florio said Tillman had an obligation to use family planning around the offseason or miss the birth for the job he chose. In 1993, the Houston Oilers threatened to fine and suspend a player for missing a game 18 hours after his wife gave birth.

Many, then, want athletes to make the same family sacrifices as soldiers on deployment.

What Murphy did was force those detractors to reconsider what really matters. “I saw how selfish I was very quickly,” Murphy told the New York Post. But that wasn’t him acknowledging his detractors. That was him sharing lessons-in-progress as a new dad with sleepless nights. “We had our first panic session,” Murphy said of the “really cool” incident. “It was dark. She 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. He was the only one screaming. I wanted to.”

Murphy says he renewed his Christian faith in 2011 after injuries derailed his career, separating his identity from baseball. He didn’t need to defend himself. Baseball wasn’t No. 1 anymore. He let his marriage and parenting speak for themselves.

Andrew Branch
Andrew Branch

Andrew is a freelance writer living in Raleigh, N.C. He was homeschooled for 12 years and recently graduated from N.C. State University. He writes about sports and poverty for WORLD. Follow Andrew on Twitter @AndrewABranch.

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