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NFL players should be free to decide whether to attend childbirth

Charles Tillman AP

The issue of Bears cornerback Charles Tillman possibly missing Sunday night’s game for the birth of his child placed on our radar screen for the second time this season a delicate question, about which plenty of you have strong opinions.

Earlier this year, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger made clear his intention to miss a game if he had to, even though he added that he and his wife will “do everything we can” to avoid that outcome.  Addressing the Roethlisberger situation on NBC Sports Network’s Pro Football Talk, I raised the intersection of family issues and football season from the perspective of the specific lifestyle the player has chosen — and for which he is compensated significantly.

On Wednesday, after hearing that Tillman had said he won’t play on Sunday if his wife is in labor, I dusted off that “this is the business we’ve chosen” mentality, without completely thinking through all of the issues that naturally arise.

Now that I’ve had a chance to consider the situation more carefully, and to consider the feedback (profane and otherwise) from some who have disagreed with the notion that players should try their best to plan for the stork to arrive in the offseason, I’ve come to realize that telling a player how to handle birth is exactly like telling him how to handle death.

And it’s been my position for years that I’ll never disagree with how someone chooses to grieve.

Some players have decided not to play when a family member dies (e.g., former Vikings receiver Troy Williamson, after his grandmother passed) and some will (e.g., Packers quarterback Brett Favre the day after his father died, and Ravens receiver Torrey Smith the same day his brother died).  Regardless of what they choose, it’s their choice.

That same approach should apply when a baby is being born.

It’s not an easy issue, for any player.  Being a father entails being present at important moments.  Being a father also involves the solemn duty of provider.  A father, while providing for his family, sometimes misses a wide variety of events.

What’s worse?  A football player who isn’t present for the birth but spends hour after hour of the offseason with his children, or a CEO who is there to cut the umbilical cord but otherwise is rarely home when the kids are awake?

In the football context, the fact that a decision would even have to be made highlights the potential conflict between a father’s role as a participant in childbirth and his role as the man who provides for the family.  If the answer was so obvious, there wouldn’t even be a question.

Then again, the fact that it’s even a question possibly flows from the “winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing” mentality that caused former Oilers offensive line coach Bob Young to proclaim in 1993 that, by attending the birth of his child, tackle David Williams “let the guys down, and he let hundreds of thousands of fans down.”

In the end, each player has to make the decision if/when the issue arises, balancing a wide variety of factors and concerns, including but not limited to the health of the mother, the health of the baby, and the wishes of the mother.  Other considerations will include the value of the player to the team, the importance of the game, and the amount of money that the player could be sacrificing by not being available on one of the 16 days per year when presence on the football field is as close to mandatory as it ever is.

Teams should support whatever the player decides to do, even if the coach, G.M., owner, or others would have made a different decision — or if it’s obvious to team management that the player gave no thought whatsoever to even trying to time the pregnancy so that it would end during the offseason.

As to Tillman, he has said via Twitter that his new baby will be born on Monday.  And that he’ll be present for the game on Sunday.

If, in the end, his wife goes into labor before or during the game against the Texans, whatever Charles decides to do should be accepted and respected by his teammates, his coaches, his owner, the fans, and the media.

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33 Responses to “NFL players should be free to decide whether to attend childbirth”
  1. vickspuppy says: Nov 8, 2012 1:53 PM

    Please don’t tell Cromartie about this. We’d never see him on the field.

  2. blackandbluedivision says: Nov 8, 2012 1:55 PM

    The birth of a child is a precious gift. I’d drop any and everything I am doing to be there, not only for the birth of my child, but to support my wife during such a tough moment.

  3. bear0402 says: Nov 8, 2012 1:59 PM

    @vickspuppy – Laughing so hard I’m crying!

    I don’t think anybody on this board would be at work while our wife was in the hospital, about to give birth.

    It is insane to think that a football player would be expected to miss the birth of their child. Football is only a job for them after all.

  4. mavajo says: Nov 8, 2012 2:02 PM

    Um…duh? I don’t think anyone was pushing for any legislation or rule which would prevent players from attending the birth of their child.

    Fans will comment on whether we like it or not, but just as it’s the player’s right to do it, it’s our right as fans to comment.

  5. bigredgoog says: Nov 8, 2012 2:05 PM

    This is a player’s choice. The team should not pay him for the game he chooses to miss. When there is sentiment to make the team pay him and he is not there, that isn’t right.

    Can you imagine not being there during the birth and something goes wrong? You have to be there during the critical portions.

    Now, I reserve the right to think poorly of a player if he skips a Sunday game when his child was born the prior Friday and everyone is O.K.

  6. lionsfan54 says: Nov 8, 2012 2:06 PM

    Did you play CB? Your back pedal is very good!

  7. dennisatunity says: Nov 8, 2012 2:12 PM

    I was thinking about the headline of this piece–that NFL players should be free to decide whether to attend childbirth. They are free to decide. We are all free to decide exactly what we want to do. Just don’t blame your decision on somebody else. We are all free to decide our lives, every moment of everyday.

  8. guppies66 says: Nov 8, 2012 2:22 PM

    I would absolutely be there for the birth of my kids.

    But I wonder what the public, especially in the hometown market, would say if Dan Marino decided to skip the Super Bowl to attend one of his kids’ birth, in his final season before retirement?

  9. sportsmeccabi says: Nov 8, 2012 2:24 PM

    Am I the only one that had “Cats in the Cradle” going through my head as I was reading this?

  10. pickney1 says: Nov 8, 2012 2:31 PM

    This should not even be a topic, their is no greater joy than being there when someone child is born, for this to even be a topic as to whether or not a player should miss a game is ridiculous.

    Granted these are men who have the opportunity to be paid o play a sport everyone would desire to play, their are men first and the opportunity to be there when their child is born should be separated from which team they may play for.

    Where are we as people when a man or woman is vilified for choosing a life long gift over a sport that they will temporally play.

  11. wayne1693 says: Nov 8, 2012 2:34 PM

    A key starter missing an important game?! Remember this is football, with a very limited number of games…not basketball. Just watch the thing via video at half-time!

  12. htowntexan says: Nov 8, 2012 2:40 PM

    disagree completely. if your team misses the playoffs because you were out with your wife at child birth, you are costing the team a ton of money and more importantly costing the fans that experience. this isn’t rocket science–it takes nine months to have a kid. plan to have one during the off season. you are paid way too much to not think about the team/fans first.

  13. protagoras111 says: Nov 8, 2012 2:50 PM

    I feel strongly that an NFL player should have the right to miss a game to attend the birth of his child as long as he is fine with his salary being docked accordingly. They don’t live in the real world. They get paid ridiculous sums of money to be ready and willing at least 16 time a year. If something is more important in his life than the NFL at any given moment, then no problem at all…. he should be able to excuse himself. He just shouldn’t expect to get paid for it.

  14. dayumyou says: Nov 8, 2012 2:50 PM

    htowntexan says:
    Nov 8, 2012 2:40 PM
    disagree completely. if your team misses the playoffs because you were out with your wife at child birth, you are costing the team a ton of money and more importantly costing the fans that experience. this isn’t rocket science–it takes nine months to have a kid. plan to have one during the off season. you are paid way too much to not think about the team/fans first.
    _____________________

    um what???

    everything in life cannot be planned……ladies can get pregnant at any time…..u need to get out more…..SERIOUSLY!!!

  15. dukemarc says: Nov 8, 2012 2:55 PM

    htowntexan says:
    Nov 8, 2012 2:40 PM
    disagree completely. if your team misses the playoffs because you were out with your wife at child birth, you are costing the team a ton of money and more importantly costing the fans that experience. this isn’t rocket science–it takes nine months to have a kid. plan to have one during the off season. you are paid way too much to not think about the team/fans first.
    ————————

    That’s laughable – you could pay me all the money in the world and my family is always going to be put in front of my employer and customers.

  16. baloneyjohn says: Nov 8, 2012 3:05 PM

    Different between guys with regular jobs.
    Unless its in the contract, dock the players a game’s paycheck and give it to a charity.

  17. blackandbluedivision says: Nov 8, 2012 3:26 PM

    htowntexan says:
    Nov 8, 2012 2:40 PM
    disagree completely. if your team misses the playoffs because you were out with your wife at child birth, you are costing the team a ton of money and more importantly costing the fans that experience. this isn’t rocket science–it takes nine months to have a kid. plan to have one during the off season. you are paid way too much to not think about the team/fans first.
    _________________________

    You must not be married or have kids.

  18. tim3711 says: Nov 8, 2012 3:30 PM

    Tom Brady basically made it clear he would miss a game if he had to when his wife gives birth to his daughter sometime this month (weei interview mon 11/5/12) and Aaron Hernandez just missed practice due to his daughter birth. I believe it’s no question they should be free to decide if they want to be there. Family is always first. Football is only a game. However the thought of Ryan Mallett starting a game in place of Brady makes me cringe.

  19. eaglesw00t says: Nov 8, 2012 3:33 PM

    No father should be away from their wife/SO while their child is being born. Unless they choose to, that is.

    As a father of 3, I wouldnt have given up those days for anything in the world. I dont care what the public thinks about it. If these guys want to be there for their wives and children, that is their business, and their concern. Not yours, not their coaches, not even the team owners.

    Most players play 16 games a year for 6-8 years.

    Most people have 1-4 children. Thats 4 days out of life. Take them, and enjoy them, and to hell with what everyone and anyone thinks of you.

    Good luck Mr Tillman. Be there for your children

  20. eaglesw00t says: Nov 8, 2012 3:35 PM

    htowntexan says:
    Nov 8, 2012 2:40 PM
    disagree completely. if your team misses the playoffs because you were out with your wife at child birth, you are costing the team a ton of money and more importantly costing the fans that experience. this isn’t rocket science–it takes nine months to have a kid. plan to have one during the off season. you are paid way too much to not think about the team/fans first
    —————

    Think of the fans first? What are you, 12? Get a grip on reality. Seriously.

  21. champs794 says: Nov 8, 2012 3:45 PM

    This again?! Family always comes first, but let’s not jump to conclusions about what that means.

    You’d have to be an astronaut to have a better excuse than “sorry, I couldn’t be there because I was playing in the Super Bowl”. My family would WANT me to play.

    But Roethlisberger has probably played 100 games like the one he almost missed. I’d skip one to see my child born, too.

  22. protagoras111 says: Nov 8, 2012 4:01 PM

    Unless you play in the NFL, nobody posting here should use the “family is more important than your job” argument. What you say is irrelevant because I’m willing to bet all you guys (with normal jobs) work at least 230 days a year, if not many more.

    These guys get paid specifically to play in 16 games. 16 games out of the entire year! If they feel that they’d rather attend the birth of a child than a game, then let them and reduce their salary by 1/16th. If family means more than their job then they’ll be glad to take the pay cut.

  23. protagoras111 says: Nov 8, 2012 4:05 PM

    eaglesw00t says:
    Nov 8, 2012 3:33 PM

    As a father of 3, I wouldnt have given up those days for anything in the world. I dont care what the public thinks about it. If these guys want to be there for their wives and children, that is their business, and their concern. Not yours, not their coaches, not even the team owners.

    +++

    Uh. No, there’s where you’re dead wrong. If a player calls in the day of a game and says he’s not making it to the game, you better believe that it’s gonna be the business of the coach, GM and/or owner (if the owner so wishes to get involved). Don’t be so naive.

  24. pats54 says: Nov 8, 2012 4:08 PM

    There are real heros wearing a uniform all over the world who miss their kids being born all the time. Where’s the outrage for them? Answer: They knew what they were signing up for. It’s no different here.

    As far as I’m concerned, it’s between the team and the player. If the team puts it in the contract that barring injury that player must be ready and willing to play or forfeit their entire contract then so be it. The fans need to understand that we are bystanders and are allowed to enjoy it for what it is. Issues like this are not for us to decide.

  25. vdogg says: Nov 8, 2012 4:56 PM

    As a life long diehard Bears fan, I was not happy when the early reports came out that Peanut may miss the game. That being said, I had no problem with him as a man doing what he was preparing to do. I fully supported his decision, now dont get me wrong, I am ecstatic he is playing but how can you hold something like attending the birth of his child against a man? Ain’t right….

  26. timlally says: Nov 8, 2012 5:55 PM

    i think professional sports is different than our jobs. we can adjust our schedule then they can. having four children I can appreciate being there but today birth can be scheduled safely and shouldn’t impact the game.

  27. vltrophy14 says: Nov 8, 2012 6:44 PM

    You can’t tell a player when he & his wife can have a kid. Yes it would be nice to have a baby in the off season as if the Bears lose(let’s hope they do)& Tillman doesn’t play they’ll always wonder “what if.”Family should come first. During the pre-season Finley flew back to be w/his wife for the birth of their child. Yes it was pre-season but he elected to be w/his wife. 1 person doesn’t make a team. He may be a huge part BUT there’s no I in T.E.A.M

  28. chicagofan says: Nov 8, 2012 7:40 PM

    Only profession to consider missing a birth is medicine/surgery and then only if no one else can do your job.

  29. Bar None says: Nov 8, 2012 7:56 PM

    For all of you who think a player shouldn’t miss a game for the birth of their child, why don’t you ask Pat Neshek why it is important to be there. If Pat hadn’t been at his child’s birth, he never would have been able to hold his child while it was alive. You rip on Cromartie because he can’t remember his kids names and get upset that another guy actually wants to be a part of his kids life, including the birth. Get a grip. If your team misses the playoffs because of one game that you missed, it says a lot about the quality of your team.

  30. liltifer says: Nov 8, 2012 8:00 PM

    “everything in life cannot be planned……ladies can get pregnant at any time…”

    See, that’s where you’re wrong and Todd Akin would be happy to tell you why.

  31. lilb360 says: Nov 9, 2012 1:37 AM

    I have three kids and their births we’re easily the most amazing experiences if my life. To me there is absolutely nothing more important than being there for your wife/girlfriend/one-night stand while she brings into the world, your child. My fiance went into labor with our middle child on the day i was supposed to be in court, i ended up receiving a warrant and went to jail a few days later but there was no way in hell i would miss the birth of my child. A real father is there for his children from birth to death.

  32. jm91rs says: Nov 9, 2012 11:29 AM

    I applaud you for re-thinking your opinion on this one, and then admitting how crazy it was. I thought your original post was petty and needless. I heard you get ripped on Mike and Mike, it seemed like a silly thing to try and tell someone else how to handle their personal business.

    I’m about 3 weeks away from being a first time dad and there isn’t a damn thing anyone could do to keep me from being there. Glad to hear you admit that you were wrong with your first assessment.

  33. hor2012 says: Nov 9, 2012 2:16 PM

    I don’t have a problem rather he plays or not. My issue is when he chooses to make that decision. During game week you have to put your game plane togeather for the defense. When you do that they’re coverage issues that you need to address. The problem with him not making a decision right now is that you effect the prep for the game. Now, for the Bears this may not be as big a issue as it is for other teams because the Bears are 90% cover two. But, within thier concepts there may be assignments that are specific to Tillman. The later you go into the week not knowing the more difficult it becomes to finalize you prep. Rather he play or not it should have been something that was decided earlier in the week. And, if he chooses to play then he needs to play the entire game.

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