The fuss about Daniel Murphy missing two games to be there for the birth of his son seemed like a total nontroversy—the Mets were OK with it, and their fans were OK with it. (Seriously. It's two games. And Daniel Murphy. And the 2014 Mets.) The only people upset were New York radio hosts. But the debate on taking paternity leave is a very real one for athletes, with very real consequences.
Writing for Fox Sports, former NFLer Brendon Ayanbadejo recalls the circumstances surrounding the birth of his daughter in August 2005, when he was in Dolphins training camp. Ayanbadejo says his wife was bedridden after a C-section, so this wasn't just about being there for the birth, but about being there for his wife.
Nick Saban, in his first year as Miami head coach, wasn't happy that Ayanbadejo wanted to take some time.
Dutifully, I let Nick Saban, my coach at the time, know we were expecting.
He made it clear that he expected me to be around and not miss any practice for this special moment for my family. I made it clear that I was going to miss as much time as it took for me to be there in support of my wife and my newborn child.
Ayanbadejo says he missed one full day of practice, and came in late a few mornings—a grand total of 36 hours off. Five days after the birth of his daughter Anaya, the Dolphins shipped him to the Bears. Ayanbadejo had led Miami in special teams tackles the previous two seasons, and in return they got a tight end who never played a snap for them.
Was Ayanbadejo traded because he had chosen his family over a few days of practice, or for more anodyne football reasons? He doesn't know for sure, but it's pretty clear what he believes.
Did Saban ship me off because I put my family before football? Did the team question my desire to be a Dolphin because of my life priorities?
[D]espite the fact that I do believe that the Dolphins — or certainly Saban at least — questioned my desire to be a Dolphin due to the priority I placed on family, family always has and always will come first.
Attitudes have presumably changed since 2005, and most coaches aren't Nick Saban, treating grown-ass men like the college kids he was used to. But there will always be inherent tensions when athletes take family leave for an event that (to an extent) can be planned, in a job that has a well-defined offseason.