A few weeks ago my niece, Raquel, was jumpy and excited about going to her first basketball practice.

The 10-year-old was given one extracurricular activity to enroll in by my wife. With us raising six nieces, we were not going to be transformed into a taxi service, running all over town trying to meet the girls’ obligations.

When Raquel got to the gym, she bolted from the car. I may walk fast, but on this day, the jitterbug was just giddy with excitement, despite the freezing temperatures outside.

I brought along my still and video camera to capture her running up and down the court. There are two pictures that stick out in my mind — one is her learning to dribble down the court, and another of her sitting down on the court with a basketball in her lap. Both of them show a young girl with a smile from ear to ear. It wasn’t just that Raquel was smiling. The pure joy and happiness she was feeling was captured in that photo.

As someone who is in and out of the city, going from coast to coast covering news, I don’t have much time to attend such events with the girls. But when I do, I cherish the memories.

That’s why I couldn’t help but get angry at the reaction in New York media circles to Daniel Murphy, a second baseman for the New York Mets, who chose to take two days off to be with his wife for the birth of their first child.

By doing so, Murphy missed the first two games of the new season, which really isn’t that big of a deal considering the baseball season spans 162 games.

Yet that didn’t sit well with former NFL quarterback Boomer Esiason, a commentator for CBS Sports and co-hosts a radio show on NY’s WFAN radio.

“Quite frankly I would’ve said ‘C-section before the season starts,” Esiason said. “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. I’ll be able to afford any college I want to send my kid to because I’m a baseball player.’ “

It’s true that Murphy makes nearly $3 million a year, but the money really isn’t relevant. It’s the fact that the man wanted to be there to see his newborn come into this world. The New York Mets fully supported his decision and praised him for it.

Athletes’ regret

Instead of this silly this-is-what-men-do talk, Esiason should have used his brain to not say that his baseball team is more important than the family at home.

Many other athletes have been faced with this decision. When Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco was in the same situation in September, he chose to play that Sunday, saying as the team leader, he was needed in the huddle.

Yet PGA Tour golfer Hunter Mahan made a different decision. When he hung up his golf spikes in July, Mahan had a two-stroke lead in the Canadian Open, and was well on his way to earning a $1 million purse. He made clear that no matter where he stood on the leaderboard, if his wife went into labor, he was leaving the tournament.

That Saturday, just one round away from a million dollar payday, Mahan’s wife went into labor. He bolted from Canada, and got to Dallas in the nick of time to see the birth of his daughter.

Mahan has the chance to earn millions in his career, but he understands that the memory of his firstborn carries no monetary value.

What Esiason and other men must understand is that forcing your wife to accept an unnecessary surgery just so you can go play ball is shameful. In fact, the Major League Baseball collective bargaining agreement gives players three days off for paternity leave.

We live in a world where men often place work, their friends and their selfish ways ahead of their children.

Esiason took so much heat that on Friday he had to apologize.

“I was not telling women what to do with their bodies. I would never do that. That’s their decision, that’s their life and they know their bodies better than I do,” Esiason said. “And the other thing, too, that I really felt bad about is that Daniel Murphy and Tori Murphy were dragged into a conversation, and their whole life was exposed. And it shouldn’t have been.”

Hopefully other men who hold the same beliefs as Esiason will realize that the games men love to play are secondary to family. Far too many athletes have the same regret when their playing days end: They wished for more time to see their children grow and thrive.

It’s time for men to grow up and learn when to put their bats and toys down.

Roland S. Martin is senior political analyst for TV One and an author.


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