As a born-and-bred Philly girl, it’s rare to find me defending anything done by a Mets baseball player. However, the recent criticism against the New York team’s second baseman Daniel Murphy for taking two days of paternity leave is wrong for many reasons that have nothing to do with America’s favorite pastime.
Multiple sports radio hosts disparaged the player on Wednesday for missing the first two games of the season so he could be in Florida with his wife and newborn son.
WFAN radio show host Mike Francesa couldn’t believe that Murphy had the gall to stay with his newly expanded family more than 24 hours after delivery. “You’re a major league baseball player. You can hire a nurse,” he said. “What are you gonna do, sit there and look at your wife in the hospital bed for two days?”
Another host, former pro football player Boomer Esiason, went a step further, suggesting Murphy’s wife should have scheduled an early caesarian section so that Murphy wouldn’t have to miss opening day. (On Friday, Esiason apologized for his “flippant” and “insensitive remarks” on the matter.)
Mets fans on Twitter expressed mixed reactions to Murphy’s absence. Here are five reasons it shouldn’t even be up for debate:
1. He was putting family first. As the controversy brewed online and in the media, Murphy, who returned to the diamond on Thursday afternoon, had a simple answer for his critics. “My wife and I discussed it, and we felt the best thing for our family was for me to try to stay for an extra day,” he said Thursday.
The media loves to decry professional athletes (and other men) who father children and then don’t take responsibility for them. We should be celebrating a man who chooses to be with his family during one of the most important times of their life.
2. Paternity leave is a valuable benefit. Major League Baseball allots players three days of paternity leave, and taking it is part of their compensation package. Such benefits are rare in the U.S. (they’re offered by just 15 percent of employers), and – like Murphy – about half of fathers feel pressure to return to work before their leave is up.
This is not only unfair to fathers, but it adds to the problems faced by working mothers as well. How can working moms be expected to “lean in,” when employers and society – and apparently sports radio – are encouraging fathers to leave mothers to figure out “that parenthood thing” on their own?
3. Some things can’t be bought with money. Murphy's critics seem to think that since he makes millions, he can afford to hire help at home so that he can get back to work. Sure, a baby nurse is capable of changing a dirty diaper or attempting to soothe a crying newborn, but having a supportive partner in those first few days of parenthood is invaluable – not to mention the bonding that occurs.
My husband took the full five days of paternity allotted to him by his company when my son was born (and plans to do so again when our daughter arrives sometime in the next two weeks). There is no one else who could have given me the support and encouragement I needed to get through those life-changing days.
4. Paternity leave is good for kids. Parents aren’t the only ones who benefit from having dad home in the early days. Studies have shown that babies whose fathers take some paternity are healthier and have a stronger bond with their dads.
While no one is arguing that Murphy should have sat out the entire baseball season, research indicates that longer paternity leave is even more beneficial to children. A recently published Australian study found that children of fathers who take a longer than typical paternity leave are more likely to perform better in cognitive development tests and are more likely to be prepared for school at ages four and five.
5. He’s a baseball player. It’s worth recognizing the consequences of Murphy’s paternity leave. The man is a ballplayer, not a military service member working overseas on behalf of the country or a brain surgeon saving lives every day.
Murphy – who is known for rarely sitting out a game – missed the first two games of a 162-game season. The Mets did lose both games, but it’s not fair to pin that entirely on Murphy’s absence; this is the Mets we’re talking about, after all.
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