I really wasn’t going to say anything about this, because it’s so dumb I can’t believe it. Mets’ second baseman Daniel Murphy missed the first two games of the 2014 season to be with his wife, who delivered their first child Monday via c-section. Murphy’s decision not only to be with his wife on opening day, Monday, but also to stay in Florida with her through the Mets’ off day Tuesday and the Mets’ second game in New York on Wednesday prompted a long harangue from WFAN’s Mike Francesa.
Francesa was dumbfounded that any man would take paternity leave. What, he asked, was Murphy going to do, stare at his wife in the hospital bed for two days? Francesa also insisted that Murphy is a Major League Baseball player, so he could “hire a nurse.” I know Francesa thought he was being hip and modern when he said later in his diatribe that fathers are “in the room” now, and that’s cool. Francesa has said in the past that on Sundays during football season, his wife understands that he’s not involved with the kids at all – that he’s going to be immersed in football all day. So, there’s that. Either way, Francesa saw fit to go on and on about Murphy’s decision to exercise his right under the collective bargaining agreement to take three days off to be with his wife, who had just had surgery, had their first child and whom, he said, he likely wouldn’t get to see for a month.
Francesa held himself up as a example to follow, recounting that he was back in the studio making the airwaves safe for humanity a day after the birth of one of his kids. This is a low bar, but at least Francesa had the sense to support women having lengthy maternity leave (though his comments left the strong impression that he greatly overestimates what kind of maternity leave American women are eligible for. We stack up pathetically by international standards). This being the world of sports talk radio, Francesa was a paragon of progressive thinking in comparison with Boomer and Carton, who are on WFAN in the mornings. Esiason’s a decent football analyst, but he and Craig Carton are such morons together, it’s painful to listen to (which is why I never do). They appear to have soiled themselves railing against Murphy. Boomer couldn’t understand why Murphy’s wife didn’t schedule the C-section to take place before the season started. And Carton, obviously confusing saying stupid things loudly with being a tough guy, bloviated, “You get your ass back to your team and you play baseball. That’s my take on it. There’s nothing you can do, anyway. You’re not breastfeeding the kid. What are you doing? I’ve got four of these little rug rats. There’s nothing to do.” He also disparaged those who think that parental leave is actually a good thing because, you know, being a present parent has some merit to it, as one of “those dopey organized groups.”
I feel confident in saying that no one’s going to be nominating Carton for father of year.
The real loser here is me, though. What does it say about me that I have nothing better to do with with my time than write about these clowns?
Update: Boomer has apologized. He and Carton got hit hard after their Murphy rantings. I was careful not to say anything about Esiason as a parent in the original post because, from everything we’ve heard over the years, he’s been a heroically good dad to his son, Gunnar, who lives with cystic fibrosis. What was dumb about Boomer’s comments was his insistence that Murphy’s wife schedule a significant surgery to fit the baseball schedule. Esiason was appropriately pilloried for that and it was those comments for which he most directly apologized today. For what it’s worth, Michael Kay, long time Yankee play-by-play man and afternoon talk radio host in the city did not take kindly to the various attacks on Murphy. Kay derided Murphy’s critics as “narcissistic baboons” and added “for the people that feel like that: 1950 is calling. They want their opinion back.” So, not all of New York sports talk radio was a den of retrogression these past two days.
Apart from the backward notions about parenting raised in all this, there’s an interesting thread regarding the meaning of collective bargaining and workers’ rights. Because pro athletes make so much money, it’s hard for many people to take seriously their claims as ordinary workers. And in many ways, of course, their work isn’t ordinary, nor is their pay. But the players’ association negotiated (a very modest) leave for its players, presumably because the players considered that a worthwhile benefit. To argue, in the face of that, that somehow Murphy or any other player isn’t a team guy because they might actually use the benefit is not about speaking up for the other players. It’s just your opinion. You’re entitled to it, however silly you sound. But don’t pretend that you are speaking on behalf of Murphy’s presumptively aggrieved teammates.
Some of these broader attitudes – about how grateful all high profile athletes should feel for their lot in life – are obviously at play in the suddenly front-and-center discussion of college sports unionization. Whether elite athletes should express more gratitude than they do is a debatable question. Whether that gratitude should manifest itself as a willingness by players to accept whatever coaches, athletic directors or professional management and ownership wish is an altogether separate question. Why highly paid coaches, ADs and impossibly wealthy owners shouldn’t also be endlessly thankful for what they have and why they shouldn’t, therefore, readily accede to players’ demands is never explained. Players are not making demands of you and me, regardless of what you hear about the dubious relationship between those demands and ticket prices. They’re negotiating with other incredibly lucky and well-resourced people. As a result, the populist tropes that color discussions of player unionization, whether college or professional, are misplaced. The college union discussion is also complicated by (a frequently muddled) paternalism. But as with their professional counterparts, there is still a thread that runs through much of the critical commentary on college sports unionization – that the athletes should just shut up and thank their lucky stars for their good fortune. And that notion, combined with some silly ideas about parenting, helped contribute to the venom that Murphy faced from some quarters.