Dwayne Wade and his ‘extended’ paternity leave: A continued cultural shift

[featured image credit: Chicago Tribune]

Wade has missed the Heat’s last three games and will miss at least three more, as he and his wife welcome their newborn daughter into the world. To the surprise of many sports writers, Wade has been greeted with congratulations from teammates, celebrities, and fans.

“With my daughter coming a couple weeks early, she’s a little tiny right now, so we’re making sure health-wise that she’s OK,” Wade told the Associated Press. “And for me, once I leave and go back to the season, not really being able to be with me everywhere I go, this time right now, this bonding moment with my daughter is the most important thing in my life at this time.”

Extended in-season paternity leave for professional athletes is rare. Historically, men athletes are met with ridicule, even if they simply take “one game off” to be with their newborn following the birth. For example, Daniel Murphy, a NY Met in 2014, missed two games for paternity leave, and sports writers were commenting things such as, “You can hire a nurse. What are you going to do, sit there and look at your wife in the hospital bed for two days?” Other on-air sport personalities blamed the mother: “She should have scheduled a C-section before the season.”

The absence of such ignorance in the wake of Wade’s announcement could signify a shift in thinking on family leave. However, just like everyday fathers, the fear of taking paternity leave and its potential impact on one’s job does not escape professional athletes. Regardless of public opinion, there is the reality that some athletes fear that taking time off will reflect poorly on them professionally, and that it could hurt their playing time and standing on the team, which ultimately can easily translate into lost/decreased salary.

Major League Baseball is actually the only one of the four major US sports leagues to offer an official paternity policy leave of up to three days.

Sports can often be a vehicle for positive change in the world. Perhaps by athletes shining a light on the importance of paternity leave, we will begin to see a faster shift for all fathers who want to take paternity leave to be with their newborn and family during such important times.

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