SALT LAKE CITY — There are a lot of things you can argue about in sports. Which baseball league is better, the American or National? Will Tiger Woods ever surpass Jack Nicklaus’ record for major championships? Which NBA teams are tanking this year in an effort to get a better draft choice?
You can go back and forth on such issues and never come up with a correct answer. And there are dozens of others.
But there are some clear-cut sports issues that seem to be no-brainers. One is, should an athlete take time off to be with his wife for the birth of a baby?
Nevertheless, at least three prominent media personalities criticized a Major League Baseball player this past week for taking time off to be with his wife for the birth of their first child.
You might have heard about New York Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy, who took official paternity leave for two days, as is allowed for major league players, to be with his wife for the birth of his son and missed a couple of games as a result.
Fox News host Gregg Jarrett ridiculed Murphy, saying the player is “rich” and that “he could have like 20 nannies taking care of his tired wife.” He added: “It’s absurd, it’s preposterous’’ that Murphy stayed an extra day to be with his wife.
Two New York radio hosts also chimed in, with former NFL quarterback Boomer Esiason and Mike Francesa each criticizing Murphy for missing games.
Esiason said he would have told his wife to have a C-section earlier in the week so he wouldn't miss any games, while Francesa said, "You see the birth and you get back. ... Your wife doesn't need your help the first couple days."
At least Esiason later apologized for his remarks, saying he was “truly sorry” for his “flippant and insensitive comments.’’
But Francesa used the old “taken out of context” excuse, saying he was “really speaking about someone who has a job like a major leaguer,’’ or “someone like me, you have a unique job and you have the wherewithal to maybe afford care that some people may not, then you get back to work.’’
Oh, that explains everything.
C’mon, Murphy missed a couple of games out of 162. Is that really a big deal? To quote another prominent New Yorker, tennis star John McEnroe, “You cannot be serious.”
Now if it was the final round of the U.S. Open, it would be a different story, right?
Not if you’re Phil Mickelson.
Back in 1999, his wife Amy was overdue with their first child and Phil was determined not to miss any of the process. He carried a pager with him and vowed that he would leave the second she called to say she was in labor with the baby, even though he was contending for the title.
It turned out, Mickelson made it to Sunday and lost by one shot to Payne Stewart. His wife had the baby the following day, about the time Mickelson would have been in an 18-hole playoff, had he tied.
Last summer, a PGA Tour golfer actually did leave a tournament early to be with his wife for the birth of their first child and cost himself a possible title and big payday.
Hunter Mahan got a call Saturday morning saying his wife’s water had broken and she had gone into labor. Mahan just happened to be leading the Canadian Open at the time and was in the driver’s seat for a $1 million first prize. However he didn’t hesitate, and withdrew from the tournament to be with his wife and witness the birth of their baby.
Another athlete, Chicago Bears cornerback Charles Tillman, received similar criticism last fall when he said the birth of a child would take precedent over playing in a Sunday game.
Tillman said football “will always be second or third in my life. When I’m done playing football, my family will always be there for me.’’
It turned out that his baby wasn’t born until Monday, so he didn’t have to miss a game. But at least he had the correct attitude about what was more important.
This all reminds me a bit of Allen Iverson’s famous rant, comparing practice to a real game. He talked about the game being the more important thing, but let me change a few of his words and make the game the insignificant thing.
“I mean, listen, we’re talking about a baseball game. Not the birth of a baby, not the birth of a baby, we’re talking about a baseball game, man. I mean how silly is that? We’re talking about a missing a baseball game.”
Yes, it is silly for anyone to criticize an athlete for missing a baseball game to be with his wife for the birth of a baby. Kudos to Murphy, Mickelson, Mahan and Tillman for having their priorities right.