On Monday last week, Daniel Murphy, the New York Mets’ second baseman, skipped the team’s opening day game because his wife was expecting a child. He was back on the job by Thursday, after taking three days off and missing only two games.
In the meantime, though, he heard quite an earful about his choice : from fans, sports commentators, and — youbetcha, as Sarah Palin would say — conservatives.
That Murphy reaped Twitter hate from some fans is perhaps no surprise. But the intensity of the vitriol directed at him by some sports media figures is more unsettling. Sports radio announcer Craig Carton hectored to Murphy that he should “get your ass back to your team and you play baseball.” Carton’s co-host, former NFL quarterback Boomer Esiason was even more blunt:
“Quite frankly I would’ve 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 our child every opportunity to be a success in life.”
Can I just step back here and note that the misogyny of comments like that, which we hear every day and are just supposed to shrug our shoulders at, is repellent?
Okay, maybe we expect sports guys to act like childish, sexist pigs about these things. But surely conservatives — who, as they never stop telling us, revere families, and family values, above all — would come out strongly in support of Murphy?
‘Fraid not. I couldn’t find any evidence of significant support for Jarrett among conservatives. On the other hand, Fox News’ Gregg Jarrett did go out of his way to attack Murphy for having the nerve to take out a few days to be with his wife and newborn son. On air last week, Jarrett said that Murphy:
“is rich. He could have like twenty nannies taking care of his tired wife, and he’s got to take off two days? It’s absurd. It’s preposterous.”
To be fair, Murphy’s gotten a lot of support for his decision as well — from Mets manager Terry Collins and from some teammates, fans, and sports journalists. That’s heartening, as is the fact that Murphy took paternity leave at all.
Paternity leave is important for three major reasons. First, when men take advantage of paternity leave, it supports feminism. As long as women perform a disproportionate share of unpaid care work, we will not have gender equality in this society. Obviously, taking a few days off for paternity leave is not going to magically change things. But it’s a step in the right direction.
Secondly, paid paternity leave, like paid parental leave in general, has substantial benefits to society. Studies show that paid parental leave increases women’s workforce participation and decreases infant mortality. Yes, you heard that right — paid parental leaves means fewer dead babies. That’s something that right-to-lifers and “family values” conservatives really ought to consider.
Finally, paid paternity/maternity/parental leave is important for workers. It’s terrible that, except for a few states, workers don’t have a right to paid parental leave in this country. It’s also troubling that many men who do have the benefit don’t use it (many of them may fear, probably with good reason, they’ll be penalized by employers if they do).
That’s why it’s important that when elite men take advantage of the benefit, they be strongly supported. When high-profile men take time off to take care of their children, they help normalize the idea that this is something that men do. Their example may encourage workers who don’t have the benefit to agitate for it.
Finally, men who take paternity leave demonstrate to the world that there are more important things in life than paid work, the market, things that can be valued in dollars and cents. Human relationships come first. This is why conservatives like Gregg Jarrett are so uneasy with the idea of parental leave. When the rubber meets the road, and their supposed devotion to “family values” conflicts with their free market zealotry, there’s never any question as to which ideology will take precedence. It tends to make you question what, exactly, they mean by “family values” in the first place.