Leave Jimmy Rollins and His Paternity Leave Alone

Some classy Phils fans mock good parenting.

Sports fans are wrong about things an awful lot. They love players who don’t deserve it and hate players who do. They come up with analyses of games and seasons totally at odds with what actually occurred. They question the heart and even masculinity of athletes with concussions and other debilitating injuries, demanding they “get the hell back out there.”

But I don’t know that I’ve ever seen the sports fan conventional wisdom as wrong as it was last week, with the freakout over Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins taking a three-day paternity leave, following the birth of his first child. This is a right granted to players by baseball’s new collective bargaining agreement, and Rollins took advantage, missing a three-game series against Washington.

Sports radio, blogs and Twitter seized on this unforgivable act. Rollins was showing poor leadership! He was demonstrating lack of effort and sending a message that baseball isn’t important to him. It’s a home series! Soldiers aren’t allowed to leave battle for the births of their children! Taking the time off may have been justifiable before—but not when he’s making $11 million a year, and certainly not when he’s hitting .220 with one home run. See the comments on this Crossing Broad post for some of the more enlightened examples.

What ignorant, spiteful nonsense. The man became a first-time father, and wanted to spend a couple of days with his new family. If you’re outraged about this, you get outraged way too damn easily.

And besides, he didn’t retire from baseball to become a full-time father. He didn’t take a year off. He didn’t ask for time off from the team to promote a rap album, as Ron Artest once did. He took off three games, out of 162 in the season, for a once-in-a-lifetime event. Sometimes players get the flu and miss three games; Rollins spent it with his kid.

And what was Rollins supposed to say to his wife? “Sorry, honey, I’d spend a couple of days with you and the baby, but I’m only hitting .220. But if I beat out a couple more singles before our second kid is born … ”

This isn’t the first time this has happened with a Philadelphia athlete. In 2009, the year of his benching in Baltimore, Donovan McNabb said that he’d played most of the season, and struggled at times, while worrying about his wife, who was enduring a difficult, high-risk pregnancy with twins. For this he was pilloried—and yes, McNabb often got pilloried just for getting out of bed in the morning. But if you’ve ever been in that situation, let me know how easy it was to get through your workdays.

As you may have heard, athletes fathering staggering numbers of out-of-wedlock children, and not supporting them, is a not-exactly-trivial problem in the sports world, Terrell Owens’s recent Dr. Phil appearance serving as only the latest example. So when an athlete actually goes out of his way to be a caring and involved father, I think he deserves praise, rather than mockery.

You can criticize Rollins for lapses in effort throughout his career, for being past his prime, and for not deserving the big, three-year contract he got last winter. All of those are fair and have more than a little truth to them. But he absolutely deserves a pass for spending three days with his wife and new child, and that this was a flap at all says a whole lot more about the people criticizing him than it does about Rollins.

Is Jimmy Rollins’s family more important to him than baseball? If it is, that’s a reason to admire him, not to bash him.